Why Does Vladimir Putin Avoid Smartphones?

Russia’s Vladimir Putin (left) visits his campaign staff while his spokesman Dmitry Peskov speaks on the phone, in Moscow, on March 4, 2012. Putin has once again proudly declared he does not have a smartphone, resisting the 21st century technology for myriad reasons. Alexey Druzhinin/AFP/Getty Images

Russian President Vladimir Putin has once again proudly declared he does not have a smartphone, resisting the 21st century technology for myriad reasons.

The leader—who spent most of his early career as a Soviet intelligence agent before turning to politics—came forward to correct an official at the Council for Science and Education, who spoke about energy use in Russia and compared how much electricity boiling water takes compared to sending a single voice message via the devices that most, if not all Russians use.

Putin hijacked the topic of conversation, sharing his now famously technophobic view of cellphones with Mikhail Kovalchuk, head of the Kurchatov Institute and a member of the Russian Academy of Sciences.

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"Mikhail Valentinovich [Kovalchuk], you said that everybody has a smartphone," Putin noted, according to state news agency Itar-Tass. "Well I don't have a smartphone, and you don't, you see. And you say everyone has one."

It is the latest of a series of comments by Putin, dismissing the need for him to get a cellphone, saying in 2010 that if he had one "it would ring all the time." The Kremlin last addressed the issue in 2014, when Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that the president truly does not have a cellphone but prefers "other types of communication."

Since the turn of the millennium, when personal cellphones become more widely available, Russians have been baffled by their president's Luddite ways, sparking threads of online conversations that try to identify different phones he is pictured holding. In 2003, one of Russia's most popular tabloids Argumenty i Fakty reported that if Putin needs a cellphone he simply commandeers the device of one of his employees, then returns it once his call is finished.

Although Putin is Russia's most widely covered public figure, he is famously inaccessible—except through a handful of televised events, including his annual hotline. Putin frequently casts aspersions over the purpose of the latest digital technologies: He is suspicious of the internet and views it as a product of U.S. espionage, and he only reads official briefings about social media posts—such as President Donald Trump's tweets—and does not himself use the platform.

An air of mystery has shrouded Putin's personal life from the Russian public; information about his romantic life since his divorce in 2013 exists only in the realm of conjecture. Neither his ex-wife nor his two daughters participate in public life. In fact, what his daughters look like today and where they work have become subjects of interest by global media outlets.