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Russia's Putin shows off his English

In a bid to win Russia's selection as the host of the 2020 World Expo, Russian president Vladimir Putin turned pitchman, speaking in English in a staged video. NBC's Andrea Mitchell reports.

Thousands of anti-government protesters took to Moscow’s streets Wednesday demanding President Vladimir Putin’s resignation Wednesday with chants of “Russia without Putin!”

But the longtime Russian leader showed no sign of going anywhere. He marked Wednesday’s national holiday “Russia Day” by being elected head of the Popular Front, a new loyalist political movement designed to broaden his power base.

But what was really making waves in Russia was a new viral video of Putin. In it the Russian president, so often portrayed as tough and in control, stood uncomfortably in front of a camera and awkwardly spoke English.

The Russian leader, now in his third term as president, has rarely spoken publicly in English. More often at international events he has insisted that he should follow the official protocol and speak in his native language -- even an interview with the Kremlin-owned English language Russia Today channel on Tuesday was conducted in Russian.

The new video addresses delegates for the International Exhibition Bureau in a bid to make Russia’s fourth largest city, Yekaterinburg, the Expo 2020 host.     

The Expo is an international event that would likely draw millions of visitors to Russia.

In the pitch he made standing in a gilded room as the camera slowly inched closer, Putin said: “I am confident we shall welcome guest from over 150 nations of the world with pride and dignity. Now, once again, I would like to make this very clear: Russia guarantees to fulfill the complete range of requirements set by the International Expositions Bureau.” 

Putin, who also speaks fluent German, has refrained from speaking English in public, with some notable exceptions.

In 2007, he presented the Sochi Olympics bid to the Olympic Committee in English at an event in Guatemala. And his rendition of the Fats Domino classic “Blueberry Hill” at a charity event in 2010 had the assembled group of celebrities, from Goldie Hawn to Kevin Costner and Sharon Stone, swinging. 

Both videos became Internet sensations.

But unlike the 2007 event, Putin’s address on Wednesday was performed for the cameras and followed a much discussed televised announcement last week, when Putin confirmed he no longer lived with his wife, and that he was getting a divorce.


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