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That time Paul McCartney re-ended the Cold War and reminded us we’re all human

Boiko Borisov

One day Platon Antoniou found himself in Moscow sitting in the Kremlin with Vladimir Putin and his cadre of political advisors and body guards. It was 2007, and Putin had just won Time Magazine’s “Person of the Year” award.

Platon was there to take the cover photo.

Knowing that this was his chance to ask one of the most powerful men in the world any question he wanted, he took his shot.

He said, “Mr. President...I’m an Englishman. I love The Beatles. Do you?”

Putin immediately ordered all of his political advisors out of the room.

Once the door closed, he turned back to Platon and quietly said, “I love The Beatles.”

In this brief moment, Putin wasn’t the arguably despotic ex-KGB officer who’s now regularly accused of violently suppressing political opposition, ignoring human rights obligations, and unlawfully annexing half of Ukraine.

In this brief moment, Vladimir Putin was just a dude who loved the Beatles.

As a dude who loved The Beatles, it’s not surprising that he was also at least partially responsible for getting a Beatle to perform in Russia.

13 years ago today Paul McCartney took the stage in Moscow's Red Square and proceeded to rock the socks off of Vladimir Putin and 20,000 other Russians.

The show was the first time a Beatle had ever set foot in or played in Russia.

Putin2.jpgPaul McCartney at Moscow's Red Square in 2003.
Image: A&E

During Soviet era, The Beatles and other popular artists from the US and Europe were banned and treated as Western propaganda. And by all reasonable measures, The Beatles were Western propaganda, whether or not they wanted to be.

Russian rocker Sasha Lipnitsky claimed that The Beatles were the “first hole in the iron curtain” and that their music had introduced many Soviets to the “idea of democracy.” When government restrictions on Western music were tightened, it only inspired youths in the Soviet Union to go to even greater lengths to obtain the music they so coveted.

Throughout the course of the Cold War many Soviets would spend a lot of their hard earned money, sometimes up to half of their monthly income, to obtain a Beatles record that they would then copy onto modified x-ray film for their friends.

In many ways the influence of a seemingly imminent nuclear war was dwarfed by the power of rock n’ roll.

So when Paul McCartney finally came to Moscow in 2003 it was a big deal.

From the first note of the historic concert, Russians young and old screamed, laughed, cried, and sang every lyric to every song in a unanimous display of joy that would make one think they had just achieved world peace. 

Seriously, the looks on their faces were the definition of pure, unbridled euphoria.

Watch below as Paul and his band rip through “Back in the USSR.” At 15 seconds you can catch a glimpse of Vladimir Putin attempting not to smile like a child who just got all the toys he wanted for Christmas.

Putting all the politics aside for a moment, the spectacle of Paul McCartney leading over 20,000 Russians through “Back in the USSR” is fucking awesome.

Vladimir Putin’s covert Beatles fanboy status and his support for the 2003 Red Square concert, despite over 100 Russian state deputies protesting it, shows us that certain things, like music, are so universal that even iron-willed, James Bond villain-esque, bear-riding (ok, he didn’t actually do that) dictators embrace them.

The legacy of The Beatles in the ex-Eastern Bloc is so strong that to this day streets named after Vladimir Lenin are ocassionally renamed after John Lennon. One town in Ukraine even renamed its town center formally known as Soviet Square to John Lennon Square.

The Soviets may not have lasted, but The Beatles certainly have.

So later on when you’re home from work, throw on a Beatles album, and rest easy knowing that in a world mired with violence, political strife, and bad music, there’s a good chance that Vladimir Putin is dancing around the Kremlin tonight in a Sergeant Pepper’s costume while singing along to “Hey Jude”.