Antonio Inoki, a legendary figure in Japanese pro wrestling, recently pondered his past dealings with the former Soviet Union.

Inoki recalled a past visit there in 1989 when he briefly encountered a younger Vladimir Putin.

“When I first went to Moscow, I had a chance to meet with some important people over there,” Inoki said in an interview with Tokyo Sports. “(As Masaru Sato, former chief analyst at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, wrote, when I entered the KGB) building, Putin, who is now in absolute power, was serving tea. However, I understand that Putin is KGB, but I don’t think he experienced the war. I wonder what kind of people are attached to the general staff there and how they give instructions.”

1989 was a key year in Antonio Inoki’s political career as he was first elected to the Japanese House of Councillors.

During that same year, Inoki invited a contingent of amateur wrestlers from the then-Soviet Union to the New Japan Dojo. They trained and eventually wrestled matches for NJPW. One of the Soviet visitors, Salman Hashimikov, won the IWGP Heavyweight Championship in 1989. Another, Victor Zangiev, inspired the Street Fighter video game character “Zangief”.

“Relationships are important,” Inoki explained. “I said, ‘I can trust this guy.’ I think the key figures in Russia knew that we were behind in many areas (compared to other countries) at that time. We exchanged a lot of information and things like that.”

Now, Antonio Inoki is joining many around the world watching Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and hopes more people in Japan will take the time to learn about world affairs that may not directly impact their own country.

“For Japanese people, it was an area of indifference, or rather, an area that they did not understand,” Inoki said. “I have been to Moldova, a neighboring country of Ukraine. There is a warehouse of Russian weapons in Moldova. So there were always disputes in that area. Finally, some experts have started to talk about the Ukraine issue. I think it means that people are becoming more aware of the situation.”

h/t to DeepL.com for the translation.

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