Russian President Vladimir Putin has admitted that some of his most famous media adventures with wildlife have been carefully staged, but has said they were worthwhile because they drew the public’s attention to nature conservation.
His macho appearances with everything from tigers to whales have been a staple of Russian state television for years and drawn mockery from critics who have likened them to Soviet-style propaganda.
Although Putin’s spokesman has previously revealed that at least one of the stunts was a set-up, Putin until now had appeared to play along with the exercises.
However, in a meeting with a Kremlin critic Putin admitted he had taken part in staged stunts that sometimes had been over the top.
“Of course, there are excesses. And I am enraged about it,” he told Masha Gessen, a journalist and Putin critic whom he had invited for a meeting in the Kremlin after she was fired from editing a travel magazine for refusing to send reporters to cover one of Putin’s stunts.
Gessen wrote an account of her meeting with the president in Bolshoi Gorod magazine.
“But I thought up these tigers myself. Twenty other countries where tigers live also started taking care of them,” she quoted Putin as saying, referring to a stunt where he was shown shooting a tiger with a tranquilizer gun.
“Everything I do in this area [wildlife conservation] should have nothing to do with politics. But for a man in my position it is very difficult,” Putin said.
Putin also admitted that a stunt last year where he dove to the bottom of the Black Sea to apparently discover ancient amphorae was also not what it seemed.
“Why did I dive? Not to show my gills off, but to make sure people learn history. Of course it was a set-up,” Gessen quoted Putin as saying.
Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters that Gessen had provided “a correct account of the meeting except for some insignificant details.”
Putin’s summons to Gessen appeared to be an attempt to mediate her dispute with her former employer. She said that Putin, flanked by the magazine’s owner, asked her whether she wanted to have her job back or whether she was comfortable being “a persecuted journalist.” Gessen wrote that she had refused Putin’s offer.