Business Insider Edition

8 over-the-top, macho Putin stunts that were nowhere near as impressive as they seemed

Alexandra Ma , Business Insider US
 Jul 30, 2019, 12:36 PM
  • Since becoming leader of Russia, Vladimir Putin has staged numerous stunts to mark himself as a strongman who will lead his country to greatness.
  • He hopes that these images will "create connections" with Russian citizens, said Fiona Hill, who wrote a biography of the Russian president.
  • Some of them are truly over-the-top - such as dressing like a bird to help guide Siberian white cranes on their migration to Asia.
  • For more stories, go to Business Insider South Africa.

Russian President Vladimir Putin is keen to portray himself as a patriotic strongman who will lead his country to greatness on the world stage.

To achieve this, he's taken part in various over-the-top, macho photo ops for his country's state-run media, many of which are reportedly his idea.

Putin hopes these images, cultivated since he became president in 1999, will "create connections" with the people of Russia, said Fiona Hill, who wrote a biography of the Russian president.

However, many of them don't really stand up to scrutiny - scroll down to read more about Putin's great feats, which are not what they seem.


Kicking ass in judo ... against people who hardly fight back.

Putin famously has a judo black belt, and regularly practices the sport in front of the cameras.

But there's no evidence that he's ever been properly challenged by a decent opponent.

Benjamin Wittes, an editor at Lawfare blog and judo enthusiast, called the Russian president a "fraud martial artist" who "only fights people who are in his power."

Watch a video of Putin doing judo here.


"Discovering" fragments of two ancient Greek urns under the Black Sea — which his spokesman later admitted were planted.

Putin found the artifacts in the six-feet-deep (1.8 metre), clear water and announced "the boys and I found them," according to The Guardian. Journalists proceeded to ridicule the photo op.

Two months later, his spokesman Dmitry Peskov admitted on the Dozhd TV channel: "Of course they were found in the course of an expedition several weeks or days earlier. Of course they were left there or placed there. It's completely normal.

"There's no reason to gloat about this and everything else."


Allegedly saving a TV crew from a wild tiger that appeared out of nowhere in the woods — when the animal was actually a tame one from a zoo, according to environmentalists.

Then-Prime Minister Putin saved the day when a wild tiger appeared out of nowhere and tried to attack him and a TV crew in Russia's Far East region, state-run TV claimed in 2008.

As the tiger leapt toward them, Putin shot it with a tranquiliser gun, Russian media reported.

Four years later, environmentalists told The Guardian that the animal had actually been taken from a zoo and driven hundreds of miles to the reserve that Putin was visiting.

They added that the tiger died on its way back to the zoo as it was unable to recover from the tranquiliser shots.


Showing off his soccer skills with FIFA President Gianni Infantino at the Kremlin ... with the help of some careful editing.

Russian Embassy, UK/Twitter

The Kremlin published a video of Putin and Infantino kicking a soccer ball to each other in March 2018, as part of a campaign to promote the FIFA World Cup in Russia.

You can watch it here.

Notice how the video cuts out before Putin receives the ball, and crops in close so you can't see what's just happened. Infantino's skills are clear, but Putin's rather less so.


Working out at a gym ... without actually lifting much.

This video, published by the state-run RT in August 2015, shows Putin on various machines - but lifting pretty trivial amounts of weight.

The Russian president is keen to emphasise how fit he is. In a press forum in Kaliningrad earlier in March, he said he exercises in the morning "all the time."


Scoring eight ice hockey goals against retired NHL players ... who all skated at least a few metres away from him.

Putin is clearly an ice hockey aficionado, having taken part in multiple ice hockey matches and watched one with Chinese President Xi Jinping in the past.

He scored eight goals in a game in May 2019, helping his team win 14-7.

But according to Fiona Hill, the Putin biographer, the Russian president actually doesn't know how to skate very well and enlisted a professional ice hockey player before the stunts.


Riding with a Russian motorcycle club known as the Night Wolves alongside its leader, "The Surgeon," but doing so really slowly.

You can watch the video of their night ride in August 2011 here, published by the state-run RIA Novosti.

This particular stunt came when then-Prime Minister Putin kicked off his presidential campaign in 2011. (He won, of course.)

The "Night Wolves" are tightly linked to the Kremlin's political agenda, and in 2014 travelled to Crimea to support pro-Russian separatist militias in the war.

Many media outlets, including The Guardian and Rolling Stone, nicknamed the Night Wolves "Putin's Angels."


Leading endangered birds to safety on a hang glider — even though they didn't need help finding their way.

Putin flew in a motorised hang glider alongside endangered Siberian white cranes in September 2013, allegedly to guide them on their migration to Asia.

The president dressed all in white to emulate the cranes' parent.

"For cranes, the parent is a man in a white robe," Yuri Markin, the director of the preserve that brought up the white cranes, told Russian state radio and cited by The New York Times.

"They don't remember a particular person. They remember the white robe and hood, or on the ultralight, a white helmet - and a special beak that is worn on the head."

This stunt garnered a large amount of ridicule from the press.

Julia Ioffe, then a reporter for The New Republic, said after the photo was published: "He is seen as a ridiculous man, deeply out of touch not only with the political reality, but with reality in any wider sense of the word."

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