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Putin's action-man holiday album

Putin swims in a lake in the Siberian Tuva region
The images are meant to portray a man who is in charge

By James Rodgers
BBC News

The Tuva holidays of Vladimir Putin - the title of a summer blockbuster film?

The name of a thriller about an ex-KGB officer just trying to enjoy a quiet life, but who keeps getting drawn back to solve problems which defeat everyone else?

No, but there might be something to that…

It is actually the headline which the website of one of Russia's leading news agencies, Ria Novosti, put above a selection of official photographs of Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin enjoying a summer break in a remote region of Siberia.

Putin sits in a tree while traveling in the Siberian Tuva region of Russia

Mr Putin is shown standing on a rocky mountain slope; resting in the branches of a tree; swimming in a river; riding a horse.

In most of the photos, he wears military-style clothes and boots. In the equestrian shots, he is shirtless.

In a country where most men do not live until the age of 60, Mr Putin stands out as an example of someone who has looked after himself.

Smoking and drinking are big factors in Russia's low male life expectancy.

Mr Putin will be 57 in October. He looks in better physical shape than many Russian men 20 years his junior.

His media team want to make sure that message - like Mr Putin's chest - does not remain hidden.

The implication, obviously, is that he knows how to look after the country too.

To anyone fed up with their father/husband/boss dragging himself out of bed, or going to work so hung over he does not really know what he is doing, these pictures say: "At least there is one man who is in control".

Lost in translation

That is important for the prime minister, whose main task is to steer Russia through the storms of economic crisis.

Putin rides a horse outside the town of Kyzyl in Southern Siberia, 3 August
Putin's equestrian skills were not the only things on display

It also serves as a reminder that he has in no sense become less active since ending his time as president.

The suggestion is that he would be in good shape to go back to the top job in 2012 if that is the way things turn out.

The Kremlin either does not know, or does not care, how these pictures will be seen by some people in the West.

The photographs of a bare-chested Mr Putin riding a horse through mountain scenery may of course put some people more in mind of a recent Hollywood film about gay cowboys.

That is not the message these pictures, and those of previous years, send out to the majority of Russians.

In Russia, they reinforce Mr Putin's image as a man many men aspire to be, and - as a recent pop song suggested - many women aspire to be with.

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