Ending something of a diplomatic mystery, New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft said yesterday that he was so taken by President Vladimir Putin's affection for his diamond-encrusted 2005 Super Bowl ring that he decided to give it to the Russian leader as a token of ''respect and admiration."
''Upon seeing the ring, President Putin, a great and knowledgeable sports fan, was clearly taken with its uniqueness," Kraft said in a statement. ''At that point, I decided to give him the ring."
During a press conference Saturday at Konstantinovsky Palace near St. Petersburg with other American corporate executives, Kraft showed Putin the 4.94-carat ring. Smiling, Putin tried it on, placed it in his pocket, and soon left.
Until late yesterday, it wasn't clear whether Kraft had intended for Putin to keep the prized piece of jewelry. The confusion remained on Tuesday, when Kraft was still traveling overseas and hadn't spoken to US media on the matter.
But finally Kraft, in the statement issued through a Patriots spokesman, said he had wanted Putin to have 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," Kraft said. ''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."
The reception in Russia may not be so enthusiastic.
While there was a time when gifts to Russia's national leader ignited fierce curiosity among the masses, when people would line up for blocks to see an exhibition of the tokens received by Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin, there was considerably less excitement in Moscow yesterday as word spread that Putin had scored a Super Bowl ring.
''If he received a gift, so what?" said a business manager who gave only his first name, Sergei, as he headed home from work near a train station in southwestern Moscow. ''What's the big deal?"
A 34-year-old historian told the Globe she finds the whole thing ''curious."
The woman, who gave only her first name, Olga, for fear of getting in trouble for speaking publicly, said in an interview that gifts to Russian leaders usually are given in an official manner. A report in Kommersant, a Russian business newspaper, had described Kraft's handover as ''shy" and Putin's acceptance as somewhat covert.
''Maybe [the Patriots] wanted to enlist Putin as their fan," Olga said.
She doesn't believe that the ring will attract more fans to American football in Russia.
In New England, on the other hand, members of the Russian immigrant community hailed Kraft's generosity and said his gift will bolster loyalty among Russian members of Patriot Nation.
''It's good for the Russian community here," said Sergey Bologov, executive director of the Russian Community Association of Massachusetts.
Bologov, who left Russia in 1992, has annual Super Bowl bashes at his Marblehead home. He said he has met Kraft and his wife several times at charity events in the Boston area.
''They are very philanthropic," Bologov said. ''He can make another ring."
Under Kraft's ownership, the Patriots have won three of the past four Super Bowls. Each time, the championship ring, which the team helps design, has been glitzier than the last. This year's ring boasts 124 diamonds.
One specialist has said the cost of the ring makes it a highly unusual token to present a head of state. Walter C. Carrington, a Simmons College professor and former US ambassador to Senegal and Nigeria, said business executives have to be careful about giving high-priced gifts that might appear too much like bribes.
But, he said, Kraft probably doesn't have anything to worry about.
''As long as he's not scouting for Russian players," Carrington said, a little tongue in cheek, ''it should be all right."
Globe correspondent Anna Dolgov contributed to this report from Moscow. Keith Reed of the Globe staff contributed to this report from Boston. Donovan Slack can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.