Judo injury or facelift? Putin tries to mask shiner

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Vladimir Putin, who has carved out a strongman image by wrestling with tigers or judo opponents, raised eyebrows Thursday as he was pictured caked in make-up, apparently to mask a black eye.

Journalists feverishly speculated that the Russian premier could have taken a punch during a judo session or even had a facelift, after he visited Kiev on Wednesday slathered in war paint.

"Ukrainian, Russian and Western journalists ... talked only of one thing: How did the Russian prime minister get a black eye?," reported Kommersant business daily's Kremlin correspondent Andrei Kolesnikov.

"Could it really be the result of some tough sparring? While it was carefully covered up, it was noticeable to everyone without exception."

While some leaders regularly wear make-up for televised meetings, Putin has always stayed barefaced in the past, journalists said.

Putin arrived for talks with Ukrainian leaders in a "bad mood" and with "something like a big bruise on his left cheekbone. He also had on his face a very noticeable swelling," reported Ukrainian television channel TCH.

"It was all badly covered up with make-up."

Journalists noted that a news conference where the leaders were expected to discuss talks in detail was cut short and a planned dinner was cancelled.

Ukraine's Levy Bereg weekly speculated that Putin could have had cosmetic surgery.

"Did Putin have a facelift?" it asked in a headline. The Russian premier could also have had teeth extracted, it added. "Or maybe he had an unfortunate judo session."

© 2010 AFP

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