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Putin Bar a Tribute to Russian Leader

The walls of the smoky "Putin" bar in Jerusalem are a pictorial tribute to the Russian president.

One photo shows Vladimir Putin (search) working a pottery wheel. Another has him clamping a judo hold on a helpless comrade. Other pictures, rattled by blaring Russian pop music, project Putin's likeness onto a portrait of a czar and a statue of a pagan idol.

But the bar is less a serious glorification of Putin than a campy send-up of the Russian president, who is currently visiting in the first-ever trip by a Kremlin (search) leader to the country.

And the two dozen Russian immigrants inside swilling Russian and Ukrainian beer — as well as some Israeli brands — were far from unified in their opinions of the bar's namesake.

"Putin is a leader. A president must be a man of decisions. He's good enough," said Arkaili Kreichman, 23, who was nine years old when he moved to Israel from Kazan, a city 480 miles east of Moscow, immediately after the fall of the Soviet Union (search).

"Putin" is located in downtown Jerusalem just down the street from an imposing White Russian church next to a historical, if rundown, landmark known as the "Russian Compound." It is a place where immigrants speak their minds and their native language. Everyone has an opinion about Putin's visit, forcefully expressed.

"I fought against Arab Palestinians who used Russian weapons," said Kreichman. "I expect he'll talk about peace, but what Russia actually does is something else."

More than a million immigrants from the former Soviet Union have made Israel their home over the past 15 years. Along with bars, there are groceries, video libraries and newspapers that cater to Russian speakers, who make up about 20 percent of Israel's population.

Opened in 2000 by a Russian from the Ural Mountains town of Chelyabinsk, "Putin" is tough on outsiders. This is a Russian-speaking joint. Vasilly, a weather-beaten 63-year-old who refused to give his last name, punctuated this point by pounding the table with his fist, insisting that all conversation should be in Russian.

Nikolai Gurov, 28, a professional mover who immigrated from Russia five years ago, said, "Putin does a fine job. He's old guard, old Russia, a KGB man."

Roman Sukholutsky, 25, immigrated to Israel from Ukraine 10 years ago through a special program for children from former Soviet republics because "I saw people's parents dying of old age at 60."

He said he and his friends don't like Putin very much but added, "If he comes to this place, I'll drink with him."

The "Putin" was not on Putin's schedule. The Russian leader left Jerusalem Friday.