When you're a ruthless authoritarian politician who's run Russia for well more than a decade, you have to work hard to keep up your image. Maybe it means showing off your strength. Perhaps it comes in the way of displaying your passion for animals. Or maybe it's by parading through Siberia without a shirt on. These, of course, are all methods employed by Russia's Vladimir Putin. And when it comes to Putin, one thing is very clear, says Tim Stanley at Britain's Telegraph: He engages in a whole lot of odd publicity stunts, and each one requires a distinct "mix of seriousness and show business." Let's take a trip down memory lane...
1. Getting Muscovites in the mood
Russia's leader has reportedly enlisted American R&B romantics Boyz II Men to perform in Moscow in an effort to get baby-making on the minds of Muscovites. That is not a joke. Putin has often insisted that the way for Russia to gain more political dominance is by increasing its population, and has encouraged Russian families to have at least three children each. And what better way to get fertility on Russian minds than by bringing in the band who so sweetly crooned, "I'll make love to you"?
2. Shirtless horseback riding
While shirtless Obama photo-ops are few and far between (and Paul Ryan is hell-bent on making sure you won't see the fruits of his P90X labors), Putin pridefully displays his shirtless body pretty much any chance he gets. Perhaps the most famous example came in 2009, when the then-56-year-old took a rugged camping vacation trip to Siberia, and photographers snapped shots of him building a fire, swimming laps in a Siberian lake, and yes, engaging in some shirtless horseback riding. Say what you will, but the man sure knows how to "showcase his weapons of mass destruction," gushed TMZ.
3. Whale shooting, leopard releasing, and polar-bear hugging
In this string of animal-themed spectacles in 2011, Putin proved to the media that his feats of strength were equally matched by his tenderness for animals (particularly the large, potentially-threatening ones) and his passion for scientific discovery. Putin kicked off the spring of 2010 by fitting a tracking collar on a tranquilized polar bear and giving it a hug during a trip to the Arctic. That May, he symbolically released a caged leopard into the wild. He rounded out the summer's wealth of wilderness media moments by boarding a motorboat and shooting (harmless) darts from a crossbow at a gray whale… in order to collect skin samples of the mammal for scientific research.
4. "Saving" a television crew from a tiger attack
During a 2008 trip to the Ussuri reserve in Siberia, Putin and a camera crew wanted to get a closer look at a mighty Siberian tiger. When one of the fearsome predators reportedly escaped a trap and lunged at the camera crew, Putin was reportedly very quick to shoot the tiger with a tranquilizer gun, therefore calming the tiger and saving the crew from its deadly jaws. It was a grand and symbolic action that was conveniently not captured on camera.
5. Flying with migratory birds
In one of his more overtly ridiculous stunts, Putin donned a puffy white jumpsuit last year and boarded a motorized hang glider to lead a flock of endangered Siberian cranes on their winter migratory path. While the feat was likely an attempt to show Putin's softer side, his flying with the birds produced "widespread, hysterical laughter" among the global commentariat.
6. "Finding" ancient Greek pottery while scuba-diving
Arguably the lowest point in Putin's publicity-stunting career came in late 2011, when he went on a diving expedition in the Black Sea and came up for air holding fragments of what were said to be ceramic jugs from ancient Greece. Putin's claim that "the boys and I found them" quickly crumbled after critics pointed out that the probability that the treasures had been hidden in plain sight for more than 2,500 years seemed quite slim. A few months later, a spokesman admitted that the stunt was a hoax and the fragments were planted.
7. Singing "Blueberry Hill"
During a charity gala event in St. Petersburg in 2010, the Russian leader took the stage to perform his rendition of the Fats Domino classic "Blueberry Hill" for a high-profile audience that included American celebrities such as Sharon Stone and Kevin Costner. While the performance wasn't astounding, Putin did hit all the notes, and his rendition instantly became a viral hit.
8. Crowdsourcing his puppy's name online
Move over, Marissa Mayer — Putin was using crowdsourcing to name his puppy long before you employed the trend to name your baby. After securing an oil pipeline deal with Bulgaria in late 2010, Putin received a Bulgarian shepherd puppy from the country's head of state as a token of thanks. Faced with a perfect opportunity to publicize his gentler side, Putin invited the Russian public to come up with suggestions for his newest pet's name. He later settled on Buffy, the name chosen by a 5-year-old boy, and was "clearly revelling in the publicity" when he invited the boy to his residence, gave him a signed football, and spoke to him about his new pet.