In 2005, New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft traveled to Russia to meet with President Vladimir Putin in an excursion meant to ignite conversations about commerce between Russia and the United States.
What happened next was less commerce and more an involuntary relinquishing of goods. From all appearances, Putin stole Kraft’s Super Bowl ring.
Putin has been embroiled in scandals for decades, from the KGB’s alleged poisoning of state enemies to allegedly interfering with elections to appearing shirtless on horseback for photo opportunities. For sports fans, his name is generally associated with the peculiar Kraft episode and the varying accounts of what happened that led to Kraft’s missing ring.
Kraft, who had seen his Patriots win three Super Bowl titles to that point, visited Russia with Citigroup president Sandy Weill, media czar Rupert Murdoch, and numerous CEOs. At a press conference near St. Petersburg, Weill nudged Kraft and mentioned that Putin might want to see Kraft’s Super Bowl ring. Likely believing it would be good diplomacy, Kraft agreed.
Kraft handed Putin the 4.94-karat diamond ring, and the Russian president seemed taken with it. “I could kill someone with this ring,” Putin said, a reference to its bulk. Then, according to eyewitnesses, Putin simply put the ring in his pocket and walked away.
Kraft, who had merely intended to show Putin the ring, was aghast. The ring had obvious sentimental value and was not exactly replaceable: It was inscribed with his name.
The two parties had differing perspectives from there. Putin said he considered it a gift; Kraft did not. When the story began circulating in Western media, Kraft reportedly received word from the office of then-president George W. Bush to let the matter rest. Accusing Putin of theft was not a great way to pursue diplomacy between the two superpowers. According to author Jeff Bendict's 2020 book about the Patriots, The Dynasty, they encouraged Kraft to soften his story.
To appease the Bush administration, Kraft released a statement seemingly confirming it was intended to be a gift.
“'Upon seeing the ring, President Putin, a great and knowledgeable sports fan, was clearly taken with its uniqueness,” Kraft said. '”At that point, I decided to give him the ring. [...] I have ancestors from Russia, so it added significance for me to know that something so cherished would reside at the Kremlin along with other special gifts given to Russian presidents. It was truly an act of serendipity and one that I am honored to have experienced. It touched me to see President Putin's reaction to the ring, and I felt, emotionally, that it was the right way to conclude an exceptional meeting.”
But in 2013, Kraft said that “I put my hand out and he put it in his pocket, and three KGB guys got around him and walked out. [...] I really didn’t want [to gift it]. I had an emotional tie to the ring, it has my name on it. I don’t want to see it on eBay.”
That’s not where it wound up. The ring is apparently on display at the Kremlin’s library, where it seems like it will stay.
And so will Putin: In office through 2024, he can technically remain president through 2036.