Monday, November 7, 2011

The Mighty Putin

by Michael Kaplan

Dolls depicting Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, created by Vladimir Rychkal, are exhibited during an international puppet exhibition in Moscow. Natalia Kolesnikova/AFP. 

The United States is not the only nation holding its presidential election in 2012. Russia too will choose a new chief executive next year. But while the American electorate will engage in a momentous clash of personalities, ideologies, and public policy alternatives whose outcome is by no means certain, our comrades in the Motherland already know who their next president will be: former president and current prime minister Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin. Since the days of the tsars Russians have sought out leaders who project an image of strength and wield power with an iron hand. So there was little doubt that Putin would take back the presidency from his sock puppet successor Dmitry Medvedev. Putin has often been photographed and filmed engaged in all sorts of exterme sporting and macho physical pursuits, from riding shirtless on horseback, shooting whales with a harpoon, riding motorcyles, and diving for treasure in the ruins of the ancient Greek city of Phanagoria beneath the Black Sea. (For a montage of Putin action pictures, click here.) In the above picture and the video below from Fareed Zakaria GPS, the Kremlin’s spin doctors play up the image of Putin as a superhero—the doll resembles Patrick Stewart in medieval warrior mode—while Medvedev comes off as, well . . . a wimp.

Putin, the man of vigor and action, presents a sharp contrast to his decrepit and too often inebriated predecessor, Boris Yeltsin, as well as to earlier Soviet-era leaders like Leonid Brezhnev. Putin’s handlers have also sought to bolster his image as a man of irresistible sex appeal. In the next video a group of faux Amazon babes who call themselves “Putin’s Army” pledge to “Tear it up for Putin.” The video, which originated on YouTube, went viral after it was posted on Live Journal, Russia’s most popular blogging platform, by a Moscow city councilman affiliated with Putin’s United Russia party.

As the video starts Diana, a sexy, stylish, and sophisticated Moscow “college student” (yeah, right), walks down a thoroughfare in six-inch spiked heels, talking on her iPhone, her very visible cleavage cradling a Russian Orthodox cross. Diana joins together for her viewers the sacred imagery of traditional Holy Mother Russia with the eroticized consumerism of modern post-Communist crony capitalist Russia. Julia Ioffe, a Moscow-based Russian-American journalist who blogs at The New Yorker, Foreign Policy, and Forbes, writes that Putin has mastered the art of mobilizing the sex saturated pop culture of contemporary Russia as a prop for his authoritarian regime. “Expressions of sex in the public domain have been a hallmark of the Putin era. Western visitors are often shocked—many of the men pleasantly so—by how Russian women parade their highest heels and deepest decolletage, even on an ordinary Tuesday afternoon.” As she teeters in her high heels, Diana proclaims her devotion to the great leader:
I am crazy about a man who has changed the life of our country. He’s a worthy politician and a great man. He is Vladimir Putin.

He is adored by millions of people. They believe in him. However there is a small bunch of people who smear him. Perhaps they are afraid of him. They’re weak and can’t be in his position.
Young, smart and beautiful girls have formed an Army of Putin. An army that will rip up anyone for him. 
Diana then announces a contest for those young ladies who wish to join Putin’s Army: “You shoot a video where you rip up something or someone for Putin.” The lucky winner who shoots the most original video will receive an iPad2 (Steve Jobs’s legacy is alive and well in the Motherland). Ripping off her own shirt Diana proclaims “What are YOU ready to do for your president?” And she does not mean Medvedev.