Several articles in the British press are circulating regarding Russia's continued frenzy over VVP's shirtless fishing photos last week. Russian women want him, Russian men want to be him ... and Russian gays want to claim him as their own? Goluboi Putin? I remain skeptical.
The article from the Daily Mail (ahem ... not the Daily Male) offers details about everyone trying to put a message on Putin's topless images:
The Russian gay community are used to living in fear as their sexuality encourages violent repression, even in the more cosmopolitan cities of Moscow and St.Petersburg. But some among them now believe they have found an unlikely ally - their own President Putin. On Russian gay chat rooms and blogs, some claimed recent photos of the president stripped to his waist was a "plea for more tolerance of homosexuality".To compliment their suggestion that Putin was sending a secret, topless message to gay Russians, the Sun had a series of photos with whimsical word balloons added, suggesting what Putin and Company might have been saying to each other. It all starts to seem very high school-ish.
One satirical photo circulating on the Internet jokingly compared Putin's mountain adventure with Prince Albert to the movie "Brokeback Mountain," a love story about gay cowboys.
The 54-year-old Russian leader, who is married with two daughters, has caused a storm with the pictures of him on vacation with Prince Albert II of Monaco in the Siberian mountains last week.
Few could have predicted the scale of speculation following release of the images on the presidential Web site, and in the Russian media there is no sign of the gossip dying away.
The mass market tabloid Komsomolskaya Pravda on Wednesday published a huge color photo of the bare-chested president, under the headline: "Be Like Putin." It's excuse? A guide showing exactly what exercises were required to build up a torso like that of the Russian leader.
Meanwhile, besides gay commentary, Kremlin watchers have been busy trying to guess what kind of political message the pictures might send, given that Putin has insisted he plans to step down at the end of his second presidential term next year, as required by the constitution.
One radio talk show host speculated that the pictures were meant to enhance Putin's personal appeal to voters - a strong signal that he doesn't plan to relinquish power.
When the commentator, Yevgeniya Albats, went on to suggest that his half-naked photo shoot was unbecoming a Russian leader, female listeners peppered her with emails expressing admiration for Putin's physique.
Komsomolskaya Pravda reported that women who visited its Web site posted comments on Putin's "vigorous torso" and said they "were screaming with delight and showering (him) with compliments."
The president has long cultivated an image of machismo and manliness. Well-known as a downhill skier and black belt in judo ... In a country that worships its Olympic and other world-class athletes, he has also taken care to stay physically fit.
In interviews, he speaks avidly about judo and athletics. "Sport has helped me form my own personal point of view on the world, on people and my approach to them," he said in an interview posted on the Kremlin Web site. Some say it's all part of the Putin mystique. "He's cool. That's been the image throughout the presidency, cool," said Sergei Markov, Kremlin-connected head of the Moscow-based Institute for Political Research.
Stanislav Belkovsky, head of the National Strategy Institute think tank, said the pictures from Tuva were nothing more than an effort to reassure Russians that Putin knows how to relax - and was preparing for retirement.
Yevgeny Volk, who heads the Heritage Foundation's Moscow office, said the political elite increasingly views Putin as a lame duck leader and that half-naked photos only strengthen the impression that he should no longer be taken seriously.
Then again, I'm the one posting these photos and talking about it, so how am I helping?
One thing I can offer in Putin's defense is that Russians are still a very old-school, forget the sun-block-give-me-some-oil, sun-worshipping people. Taking off some clothes to get some time in the sun is a fairly common occurrence among Russians. So the message, if any were intended, was most likely "I'm a real Russian man".
Save to del.icio.us