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August 7, 2009

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Bare-chested Putin generates plenty of headlines

Eat your heart out, Sarkozy. Stand back, Barack.

Vladimir Putin proved this week that even a gimlet-eyed Russian politician can rise to the status of global celebrity in the multimedia age, as pictures of his bare chest and manly deeds on his Siberian holiday caused tongues to wag worldwide.

Two state-owned Russian television channels launched the frenzy on Tuesday night, broadcasting video of Putin's gym-toned arms chopping through the water in a butterfly stroke and others showing him riding bare-chested on horseback.

Beefcake in August

Within hours, everyone from the BBC to the tabloids seized on the story, apparently grateful for a bit of middle-aged beefcake in August, the slowest of news months.

Moscow invented the cult of personality, and Putin has long been touted as a kind of post-Soviet superman in Russia.

But what did the rest of the world find so mesmerizing about pictures of a 56-year-old politician stripped to the waist, rowing a raft, fishing, snapping bits of wood and going for a swim?

His feats draw admiration from an adoring Russian public and scorn from skeptics.

Putin's summer holidays spent getting back to nature and fishing resonate with many Russians. They also provide a stark contrast to the yachting and globe-trotting lifestyles of many of Russia's super rich.


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