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The 5 Best Vladimir Putin Publicity Stunts

By: Evan Peterson

It seems that Russian president Vladimir Putin is breaking up Chuck Norris’ monopoly on comic manliness.

Putin has strung together a series of overly masculine publicity stunts to reach out to the Russian people, create a nearly fictionalized image and increase his popularity.

Putting Out Forest Fires

In summer 2010, wildfires raged through Russia’s central region. In response, President Putin hopped on a firefighting plane and personally dumped water from the plane’s drop compartment over two fires in the Ryazan region.

“A direct hit!” the pilot said, according to multiple sources.

Though dramatic, perhaps heroic to some observers, it appears that the stunt was a strategic response to public dissatisfaction. Rianovosti, a Russian news source, stated:

“Putin’s stunt comes as polls show waning public support for Russia’s president and prime minister…there was a growing fatigue surrounding Putin’s popularity.”

Dr. Brian Endless, an international politics professor at Loyola University of Chicago, agreed with this sentiment.

“Everything he’s doing is a very carefully crafted PR image.”

Riding in a Submarine in the World’s Deepest Lake

In August 2009, Putin hopped onto a submarine to dive to the bottom of the world’s deepest lake, Lake Baikal. Scientists probed the lake’s depths in search of natural gas and other natural resources that Russia could claim.

Putin commandeered a submarine of his own while the scientists descended in another. For about four-and-a-half hours, the current president navigated the dark waters observing wildlife, plants and landforms.

Though some jokingly compared Putin to the fictional Captain Nemo from Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea, this stunt does represent a significant political move.

The scientists in the other submarine were searching for viable sources of oil, natural gas and other fossil fuels. BBC News stated that:

“The largely untouched lake bed contains deposits of clathrate hydrate – crystals packed with natural gas….Experts say the reserves of methane could rival some of the largest deposits in the world, although mineral extraction is banned.”

Possessing and using these resources could give Russia an economic boost and fund several developmental projects.

Al Jazeera’s English website has provided a video of Putin entering and manning the submarine.

Shooting a Grey Whale with a Crossbow

Scientists from Kronotsky Biosphere Reserve tagged endangered gray whales in the Olga Bay to keep tabs on the population, and President Putin, armed with a special crossbow, decided to tag along. A Fox News article explains further, but the scene went as follows, according to the AP:

“Putin held his balance in a rubber boat that was being tossed around in choppy waters off the Kamchatka Peninsula, and eventually hit the whale with a special arrow designed to collect skin samples.

“‘I hit it at the fourth try!’ a beaming Putin…yelled to a camera crew from the boat.”

The Russian press portrayed this stunt as an example of the president’s environmental activism. Endless agreed that Putin “uses the press to enhance his popularity,” and this whale-tagging could distract the people from Putin’s questionable policies and leadership.

Migrating with Cranes

In fall 2012, Russia’s president engaged in what Dr. Endless has cited as one of his favorite Putin stunts.

Below is a video from Russia Today of President Putin boarding a hang-glider and migrating with cranes born in captivity. He claimed that he joined the birds to teach them the migratory pattern, but it was likely just another publicity stunt.

Putin dressed in all white, manned his motorized hang-glider and flew from Russia’s Yamal region with cranes born in captivity to Central Asia.

The Huffington Post reported that only one crane flew with Putin the first trip, but scientists blamed high winds for speeding up Putin’s hang-glider and thus going to fast for the cranes.

As odd as this stunt may seem, Endless repeated, “Assume anything (Putin) does has a calculated reason.”

As with other stunts, this stunt reinforces the image that Putin has created: an animal-loving, entertaining leader, thus boosting his popularity.

Banning Adoption of Russian Children by Americans

Near the end of the 2012 year, president Putin signed a bill banning the adoption of Russian children by Americans.

The New York Times reported that this ban was “part of a bill retaliating against a new American law aimed at punishing human rights abuses in Russia.”

Many criticized Putin for preventing Russian children from having better lives in America with their adopted parents. Putin responded to the criticism, saying:

“There are probably many places in the world where living standards are better than ours. So what? Shall we send all children there, or move there ourselves?”

Endless commented specifically on the adoption ban. He said that this move was “one of laying down (Russia) still (has) power.”

Endless said that Russia is no longer among the elite superpowers. Though Russia is no longer capable of controlling other countries’ actions, Endless says that the adoption ban is Putin’s way of saying that Russia can still stop countries from doing things.

Photo by: World Economic Forum from flickr.

  • written by Evan Peterson on April 5th, 2013
  • posted in Featured
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The Hub Bub is a collection of articles, videos, audio, photo slideshows, interactive maps and other media produced by students enrolled in journalism courses at Loyola University Chicago's School of Communication. For more about the School of Communication, our award winning faculty, and our state of the art facilities located in the heart of Chicago, visit our website.