Sometimes, when the stars are aligned just right, and a little of the old magic seeps back into our colourless world, a true leader is born. A man such as Vladimir Putin: ex-KGB agent, former Russian President, he who puts the Prime into Minister. The man who certainly wouldn’t consider running for President again in 2012, even though he only stepped down in 2008 because the constitution said he had to.
All those accusations about creating a cult of personality, and nurturing a hard man image at complete odds with that of the current President – complete rubbish. He can’t help it if the state-controlled Russian TV networks idolize him, and insist on filming him as he goes about his daily business. You know, daily business. Things like:
1. Saving a TV crew from a Siberian tiger attack
In August 2008, Putin visited the Ussuri Nature Reserve in the far east of Russia to see how tigers are monitored in the wild. With uncanny flair for what makes good TV, a Siberian tiger escaped its restraints and rushed towards the crew filming the trip. Realising the cat was after more than a scratch behind the ears and a saucer of milk, Putin shot it. With the tranquilizer gun he was conveniently carrying.
After helping to measure the tiger’s teeth, and concluding they were nowhere near as dangerous as his own, Putin tagged the beast with a satellite transmitter and sent it on its way with a stern warning that he now knew where it lived.
A presenter on Russian television said:
“Vladimir Putin not only managed to see the giant predator up close but also saved our television crew too.”
Yep, the Prime Minister managed to see the 450kg mass of stripy snarl charging right towards them. So we can assume that not only does he have BraveStarr’s speed of the puma, but also his eyes of a hawk.
2. Shooting a gray whale with a crossbow
Yep – you did read that right. In August 2010, the Prime Minister of Russia shot a whale with a freaking crossbow. But don’t worry, Putin getting medieval on the whale’s arse was all in the name of scientific research: the bolt was designed to collect skin samples, to help experts determine where the whale came from.
Unlike the tiger leaping towards him with murder in its mouth, it took Putin four attempts to nail the 35-tonne sea mammal. Although, to be fair, he was rocking about in a rubber dinghy off the far east coast of Russia at the time.
When a journalist asked him why he’d done it, he said, “Because I like it. I love the nature.” I wonder if the translator missed the word “shooting” out of this sentence somewhere.
3. Judo-throwing his opponents and putting the smack down on zombies
Never let it be said that Vlad the Bad needs a projectile weapon in order to kick butt: he’s just as deadly with his bare hands. Putin is an active Judo practitioner, and has a penchant for tossing around grown men in front of the cameras.
He’s won multiple competitions, written a book on Judo, and has even demonstrated techniques to students at the Judo headquarters in Japan. In case you’re wondering, he’s a sixth degree black belt, which in Judo means he’s so hard his belt isn’t even black. It’s alternating red and white stripes. This could also represent a secret Crazy Barber style of Judo, or the blood of his murdered political opponents.
(Note: Putin usually wears a black belt during photo ops, since nothing screams, “I’m a black belt” as loudly as a belt that is black.)
I’d bet that if Putin were Prime Minister of Britain, he’d have stopped the recent UK riots singlehandedly. I think Russian writer Sergei Kalenik would agree: he’s created a web comic in which good old Vladimir is a superhero. Along with his sidekick, current Russian President Dmitry Medvedev (described as a “gnome raised by bears”!), Superputin must save the country from terrorists. Along the way he also takes on zombies with blue buckets on their heads. Because zombies that aren’t kitted out with household body armour just aren’t worth his time.
4. Water-bombing the shit out of forest fires near Moscow
Even natural disasters stand no chance if you have Vladimir Putin on dial-a-hero. When wildfires were sweeping across western Russia in August 2010, he took to the skies in a Beriev Be-200 fire-fighting plane, switched into the co-pilot’s seat once safely airborne, and unleashed the wrath of heaven onto the raging inferno below him.
OK, so he pushed a button that dumped water on fire. But anyone who thinks that was a mere publicity stunt should ask themselves the question: When the heat is on, could you step up and do what it takes?
Besides, that’s only the official version, which most Putinologists believe is a government cover-up in order to conceal his true powers. The most popular alternative theory is that Putin took an almighty swig from the Volga river, and then pissed on Nature’s bonfire from a great height.
5. Taking an F1 race car for a spin… literally
At some point in their lives, most people have to choose between becoming Prime Minister, and racing Formula One. Not so Vladimir Putin. In October 2010, a month after he signed a deal with Bernie Ecclestone to bring the sport to Russia, Putin took an F1 racer for a solo spin near St Petersburg. And when we say spin, we mean spin: reaching speeds of nearly 150mph, at one point he lost control and spun out, though managed to recover. You gotta hand it to him: the guy has balls of steel. Or a key part of his brain missing.
But sometimes it’s more important to travel in style. And if you happen to be Vladimir Putin, “style” means getting geared up and roaring into a bikers’ convention in the Ukraine on a Harley Davison tricycle. According to Wikipedia, he’s even been made an honorary Hells Angel. His nickname translates as “The destroyer”, or “Depths of Hell”!
6. Shaking paws with a polar bear and snuggling up to snow leopards
It has been suggested that Vladimir Putin may be the black sheep of the Dr Dolittle clan, where instead of talking to the animals, he shoots them. Except…
In April 2010 he ‘helped’ experts attach a tracking collar to a tranquilized polar bear in the Arctic. Sky News reported:
Be well? Be well! You couldn’t make this shit up. Presumably he meant to say, “Be as well as you can for now, coz there’s a fuck-load of oil in the Arctic and we’ve already laid symbolic claim to the area by planting a flag on the sea bed at the North Pole. And by the way, I’m a black belt at Judo so don’t piss me off.”
“As the sleeping beast lay before him, Mr Putin shook its paw and said: ‘Be well.’”
In keeping with his quest to be the friend of all things furry, Putin recently “frolicked” (really, Reuters?) with a snow leopard in Siberia. Snow leopards are an official mascot of the 2014 Russian Winter Olympics, and scientists had supposedly rescued this one “after a harrowing ordeal at the hands of poachers.”
Fortunately, Putin had space in his schedule to fly out and frolic it back to freedom. But this blog post on Saving Snow Leopards claims a much darker story behind the photo op: that the snow leopard was abducted from its home in a nature reserve, and kept in captivity for a week before Putin came to ‘release’ it.
7. Discovering ancient Greek urns on his third ever scuba dive
Whilst diving last week at an ancient Greek archaeological site on the Black Sea, Putin again utilised his eyes of a hawk to discover two urns dating back to the sixth century. It didn’t matter that it was only Putin’s third ever scuba dive, because the surprisingly intact and decidedly un-mossy urns were hidden in clear water only two metres under the surface.
Divers and archaeologists have been working this site for years, but never so much as tripped over these whacking great pots. They must be embarrassed they never got round to checking that spot earlier. It’s just like my granny used to say:
“If you want something done, get a powerful politician with a hard-on for the presidency to do it, and make sure to roll the cameras.”
Of course, some naysayers have called shenanigans. But I say ship Putin out to Egypt and point him towards the Pyramids, see what he comes up with. At the very least, he can help me find the TV remote I left on my sofa last week. I can’t imagine where it went.
8. Scoping out the deepest lake in the world by submarine
Lake Baikal in Siberia is the deepest freshwater lake in the world, and therefore a worthy subject for Prime Minister Putin’s penetrating intellectual analysis. In Summer 2009 he lent his expertise to a group of scientists studying gas hydrates on the lake bed, joining them for a mile-deep jolly in a mini submarine.
Before you start questioning the wisdom of taking a layman on a crammed-into-a-submarine-a-mile-underwater-doing-important-shit scientific expedition, consider the insight Putin was able to offer:
“The water is pure from an ecological point of view, of course, but it is in fact a kind of plankton soup, as I would call it.”
This must be where the team in the film Sphere went wrong. They were investigating a suspected alien vessel deep under the ocean. Instead of wasting space on psych-astro-biologists, they should have taken down the Prime Minister of Russia. He’d have made quick work of that giant squid, for starters.
9. Baring his chest in Siberia, again, and again, and again…
When not aiming a gun at the natural world, Putin likes to commune with it. In 2007, whilst still President, he took Monaco’s Prince Albert II on a wilderness adventure to Siberia. There are a lot more camera crews in Siberia than you might expect, and Putin just happened to be snapped whilst fishing bare-chested. In the interests of decency, he was using a rod at the time, though I’m sure he reverted back to spear once the press were gone. To put this into perspective, British leaders prefer to holiday in villas in Tuscany, ideally provided for free by their aristocratic mates. If they take their kit off they are more likely to look like a fish than to catch one.
Returning to the same area in 2009, Putin was somehow shot again with his top off and his man-guns out. He was riding a horse this time, though inexplicably not bareback. I can only assume the saddle was there to protect the horse from Putin’s bad-assery.
NBC even entertained the idea of Putin being the original Old Spice guy.
But being Prime Minister of Russia isn’t just about flashing a bit of skin. If you check the previous link, there’s pictures of other Putin action man figures:
- Pyro Putin – snapping sticks to make a fire
- Pensive Putin – sitting in a tree, gazing winsomely off-camera
- Paternal Putin – gifting his watch to a young boy
- Pectoral Putin – displaying his muscles as he demonstrates the butterfly stroke in a Siberian lake
- Peasant Putin – taking dinner with a local villager
As long as I get the model where the eyes move from side to side, I’ll be happy.
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Nick lived in Egypt for six years, working as a tour leader, EFL teacher, city guide editor, and online guidebook writer. He's currently in San Francisco searching for his centre. He (kinda sporadically) blogs at Delicious Chaos, and you can follow him on twitter.