Russian President Vladimir Putin’s oversized table has become an unlikely star of diplomatic efforts to ease the Ukraine crisis, and a source of pride for the small Italian firm that claims to have made it and hopes it will help peace efforts.
“A table is a place where people eat, play, but also where they decide wars or sign armistices,” Renato Pologna, head of OAK furniture, told the AFP news agency at the company’s offices in Cantu, northern Italy.
“My hope is that this table brings good luck, and doesn’t bring an escalation of conflict.”
The 6 metres (20 feet) long white beech table adorned with gold leaves was the setting for Putin’s meetings over the past week with French counterpart Emmanuel Macron, and subsequently German Chancellor Olaf Scholz.
Officially used as part of coronavirus protocol, to keep some distance between the Russian leader and his guests, it has been subject to intense debate and mockery.
It has launched a slew of memes, showing the table as a skating rink, or as the scene of the Last Supper.
The long table at which Putin and Macron sat during the talks in Moscow became an occasion for many mimes and the subject of jokes. pic.twitter.com/0btLBFJNJN
— Spriter (@spriter99880) February 8, 2022
The table was “a unique piece” made to order and delivered to the Kremlin in 1995 as part of “the biggest order we have ever had”, Pologna said.
The cost? “It was in [Italian] lira back then … the value of a table like that today would be around 100,000 euros [$113,545],” he said, adding that the total order was worth “more than 20 million euros”.
Pologna’s firm is not the only one to claim the table. In Spain, retired cabinet maker Vicente Zaragoza says he delivered the table to the Kremlin around 2005.
“It’s a table made of beech from the Alps,” Zaragoza told Spanish radio Cope, saying he immediately recognised it from television images.
Back at the Italian factory near Lake Como, Pologna brings out several documents he says are ample evidence of his company’s role.
There is a photo of the table reproduced in a 1999 book on the Kremlin, a framed certificate signed November 22, 1996, by then-Russian President Boris Yeltsin – and detailed sketches of the piece.
“I am 100 percent sure of what I say,” the 63-year-old Italian said.
Anxious to avoid controversy, however, he added: “I imagine that, as they say in Spain that they made a similar table, that a replica was made, but I don’t know.”
OAK was founded by Pologna’s father in the 1950s and today employs about 50 people, making classical and contemporary wares to order.
The showroom displays a mix of furniture with sleek modern finishes, and gold-rimmed dining chairs set under glistening chandeliers.
Putin’s table, located in a Kremlin reception room, was part of an order to furnish and decorate about 7,000 square metres (75,000 square feet) across two floors, according to Pologna.
“In other countries, they love the design and quality of top Italian craftsmanship,” he said, saying his company made furniture, floors, woodwork and marble finishes for the walls of the Kremlin’s living rooms.
Many of OAK’s clients are from the Middle East, and former dictators Muammar Gaddafi of Libya and Iraq’s Saddam Hussein are among those who have been drawn to its wares.