Aug 8, 2011

Vladimir Putin: Russia's "real life action man' - Home of the Daily and Sunday Express | Express Yourself :: Vladimir Putin: Russia's "real life action man"


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Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin rides a horse during his vacation outside the town of Kyzyl
Monday August 8,2011

By Anna Pukas

DRESSED in killer heels and figure-hugging suit, the shapely blonde strides through central Moscow, speaking into an iPhone.

Rather than talking business, she is in fact arranging to meet up with two friends who are chilling out on sun loungers at what looks like a trendy private club.

This is what Modern Russia looks like: confident, self-assured and savvy, they know what they want.

And what they want is Vladimir Putin. So much so that the young woman in question daubs “I’ll strip off for Putin” in red lipstick on her T-shirt – and then proceeds to do precisely that.

The short video, which has become a YouTube hit, is the work of a group of campaigners calling themselves Putin’s Army.

Describing themselves as “beautiful, young and smart girls”, they have been formed via the Russian equivalent of Facebook with the aim of getting Putin elected president of Russia next year.

Putin has already done the job before but the Russian constitution prevented him from serving more than two consecutive terms.

Now after a one-term break, during which he has served as prime minister under President Dmitry Medvedev, he could be eligible again for the top job.

Putin’s Army certainly think there’s nobody better. Hands on hips, our blonde supporter turns to the camera and declares: “He’s a first-rate politician and a chic guy. There are millions who adore him. But there are people who throw mud at him. Maybe they’re scared? Or maybe out of their own weakness? Because they’ll never be in his place.”


Phew! We’ve had Blair’s Babes and now Cameron’s Cuties but they were nothing like this. But then Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin is not as other prime ministers.

Indeed his campaign strategy throughout his political career ever since his meteoric rise from KGB gent to Boris Yeltsin’s deputy in the first post-communist government, has been to present himself as not as other men – or rather as much more than other men.

Only last week he was pictured at a Kremlin youth camp scaling a climbing wall with neither helmet nor safety harness and apparently trying to bend a frying pan with his bare hands. In fact Putin has been taking things up a notch for the past two years.

His prowess at judo – he is a 6th dan black belt and has released his own masterclass DVD – was already well-known but he has also been filmed shooting, fishing and horseriding in Siberia, always barechested, displaying an impressively well-muscled body.

In July 2010 he donned black leathers and shades to ride a Harley-Davidson at a bikers’ festival in Sevastopol.

Last August, he drove 1,300 miles in a Lada across Russia’s Far East to mark the completion of Russia’s first continuous east-to-west highway and in November he clocked 150mph in a Renault Formula 1 car on a racetrack in St Petersburg.

He has watched bare knuckle fighting with Jean-Claude Van Damme and proximity to the Belgian beefcake only enhanced his own macho-ness.

After all Van Damme’s screen heroics are just pretend; Putin is for real. But not only is Putin, a well-preserved 58, a man of action, he is also a man of conscience.

Last August he co-piloted a plane dumping water on to forest fires raging over south-east Moscow. He has shot a tiger and a polar bear to sedate them so they could be fitted with a tracking collar.

In August last year he collected a skin sample from a whale in the choppy waters off Olga Bay on the remote Russian Pacific coast. “I wasn’t scared, it was exciting,” Putin told assembled journalists.

When asked if chasing whales was a dangerous pursuit for someone with his responsibilities, he fixed the questioner with a glacial stare and replied: “Dangerous? Life is dangerous.” He let out a rare bark of laughter when
asked if he would recommend it to other politicians.

“To anybody,” he said, in a manner that suggested that no other politician in Russia was man enough for it.

In November 2009 he gave out the awards at a hip-hop music show and in April this year he whizzed around the ice in a training session with a teenage ice hockey team in Moscow.

Last Christmas he showed his spiritual side, attending midnight mass in the church in Turginovo, the village in western Russia where his ancestors settled in the 17th century.

Putin is the son and grandson of committed communists. His grandfather Spiridon worked as a cook for both Lenin and Stalin while his father, also Vladimir, served with the NKVD (forerunner of the KGB) as a saboteur in the Second World War.

Putin himself joined the KGB straight from university in 1975 and resigned only in 1992 following the abortive attempt to overthrow the then leader Mikhail Gorbachev, which ultimately led to the collapse of the Soviet Union.

It is therefore unlikely that he feels a strong attachment to the Russian Orthodox faith. But footage of the prime minister worshipping with headscarved babushkas in his old village church, casually dressed in a plain khaki jumper (a gift from a local official) went down very well with millions of ordinary Russians.

By contrast, Russian President Medvedev went to mass in the biggest church in Russia. Putin also knows the value of not appearing too serious.

At a glittering celebrity-strewn charity banquet in St Petersburg last December he played the piano and sang Blueberry Hill in English while the likes of Goldie Hawn, Kevin Costner, Sharon Stone and Gerard Depardieu clapped and swayed in time.

All in all the past two years have been a brilliant exercise in projecting Putin as the man for all of Russia’s seasons.

He may not have declared yet his intention to run for president but it is surely a very broad hint.

Other world leaders may feel dismay at the return of the cold-eyed, unsmiling former spymaster. But what about the Russian people?

Putin’s approval ratings are the stuff of dreams for western leaders they have never fallen below 65 per cent and have gone above 80 per cent more than once.

In 2003 during Putin’s first term as president a pop song was released called Someone Like Putin, in which a girl sang about her love for the president who was “full of strength” and didn’t drink.

The singer was never identified and the record never went on sale yet Russian radio stations played it constantly.

In 2007 Russia’s best-selling tabloid Komsomolskaya Pravda published a huge picture of a bare-chested Putin on holiday in Siberia with the headline, “Be like Putin” along with suggested exercises.

Two special editions of the magazine Secrets Of The Stars featured Putin on the cover, with more pictures inside of him kayaking, swimming with dolphins and arm-wrestling, plus articles about his likes and dislikes (ham with fried cabbage is his favourite, apparently) and an interview with his wife Ludmila (she praised him as a model husband because he doesn’t beat her). They sold out.

Putin’s name and image are widely used as product brands; you can buy Putin caviar and Putin vodka. This may look like a cult of personality to Western eyes but the fact is that Russia has always been an autocracy.

Whether it was Ivan the Terrible or Peter the Great or Stalin or Gorbachev, the rule of one strong man is the Russian habit.

Putin himself recognises this. “There is no point speculating whether this tradition is good or bad. It exists and remains dominant for now.”

In any case after the chaos that followed the collapse of communism in the early Nineties, Russia is less in love with the West than she used to be.

Putin undoubtedly is a disturbing figure to the West, a wolf in wolf’s clothing. But to Russians, he is their wolf.