ABC's Alexander Marquardt reports from Moscow:
He hunts! He builds fires! He captains his boat through river rapids! He rides his noble steed shirtless!
That Vladimir Putin is one tough guy.
That’s probably what Russian Prime Minister Putin is hoping you’re thinking after the latest batch of photos to be released from one of his vacations feature the 56-year old in various scenes that certainly help in beefing up the active, tough guy image the Russian Premier has cultivated during his time in power.
There’s a shot of Putin doing the breast stroke in a river, him on a horse with no shirt on and another of him in green fatigues in the branches of a tree he just climbed.
Photos of a shirtless President Barack Obama on a Hawaiian beach last summer were an internet and magazine sensation, but they were taking with a paparazzo’s long lens. These pictures of Putin were clearly part of a carefully crafted photo-op to further the impression of a strong, macho leader.
A picture of Putin fishing shirtless in 2007 when he was president went viral, he has a black belt in judo, he co-piloted a fighter jet, shot a tiger with a tranquilizer gun and just days ago dived in a submarine to the bottom of Russia’s Lake Baikal, the world’s deepest lake.
Putin has promoted the hardman perception at work as well. In June an aluminum plant owned by an oligarch was shut down and the workers laid off. They protested so loudly that Putin turned up and scolded the billionaire in front of the press for closing the factory, then nonchalantly tossed his pen onto an agreement re-opening the facility for the man to sign.
The tough guy image may be just what Russians are looking for.
The Russian opinion research center Levada says Putin’s approval ratings have never gone below 60%, reaching as high at 88% in the weeks following last summer’s victory over Georgia in a five-day war. In the past year he hasn’t gone below 76%, during one of the country worst economic crises. (In comparison, ABC’s most recent approval rating for President Obama is 59%, he peaked at 69% in April.)
President Dmitry Medvedev meanwhile hasn’t taken it off for the cameras during his time in office. He has tried to come across as casual though, wearing jeans during a dinner with President Obama and sporting a black leather jacket on trips. However, he does have a few years left in his first term…