ST PETERSBURG: They both are strong leaders with cult-like following. But when Prime Minister Narendra Modi met Vladimir Putin he stuck a very personal cord when he recalled how the Russian President's brother was among several family members who had laid down their lives for the country.
Meeting 64-year-old Putin for the second time in eight months, Modi in his opening remarks mentioned his visit to the Piskariovskoye Cemetery where over 5 lakh victims of World War II and the 900-day siege of Leningrad are buried.
"I had an opportunity to visit (the cemetery) and pay homage to those who laid down their lives for Russia," 66year-old Modi said.
Looking at Putin, he said, "you are a political leader whose family has made sacrifices" for the glory of Russia.
"Your brother was martyred," he said, referring to Putin's brother Viktor who died more than 70 years ago during the siege of Leningrad.
According to an account Putin gave to Russkiy Pioner magazine in 2008, his father had six brothers - five of whom were killed during the 1941-1944 war, along with some of his mother's relatives.
During the two year, four month siege, Leningrad – which was renamed Saint Petersburg, its original name, in 1991 – water and power supplies were cut off, and disease was rife as a Nazi Germany blockade stopped essential humanitarian supplies, including food, from entering the city.
Putin had told the magazine how his emaciated mother was carried out of a crumbling building on a stretcher close to death, after two-year-old Viktor, died from diphtheria and starvation, following months of siege and violent war.
Putin's other brother, Albert, was born in the 1930s but died in infancy.
Putin, who was born in 1952, seven years after the siege ended in 1944, thanked Modi for visiting the cemetery.
"I would like to thank you specially for visiting Piskariovskoye," he said. "Places like these have special significance for the Russian people. Thank you."
Putin is known for rarely showing his emotions but he appeared moved when Modi mentioned the sacrifices made by his family.