Russia's Vladimir Putin hits bottom in new undersea adventure
President Vladimir Putin submerges off the island of Gogland 180 kilometers west of St. Petersburg, Monday. Putin rode the small submersible craft 60 meters down to see the remains of a Russian naval frigate. (AP Photo/RIA-Novosti, Alexei Nikolsky, Presidential Press Service)
Russia’s President Vladimir Putin has worked his way through a pantheon of superheroes to prove he’s not -- not even slightly -- a Girly Man.
He’s soared like Superman with a flock of astonished cranes, dropped a tiger in its tracks with a tranquillizer gun a la James Bond, hugged a groggy polar bear and on Monday popped into a Captain Nemo-style sub for a 30-minute dive in the Gulf of Finland.
He was there to view the remains of the19th century Russian frigate Oleg which was accidentally rammed by another naval ship and sunk in 1869. But unlike a previous underwater excursion when Putin “discovered” archaeological treasures in the Kerch Strait, this one yielded only a peek at the ruins. His conclusion: that the ship was too fragile to raise, but a replica could be built to house its artifacts.
That might be a metaphor for Putin’s efforts so far -- running a regime that is increasingly flawed and frayed, while presenting a shiny replica for the world to admire.
In the latest round of attacks on soft targets, non-profit groups suspected of being funded by the U.S. have been raided, and some of their leaders brutally assaulted. Sergei Nikitin, who is head of Amnesty International’s Moscow office and met with fugitive secret-leaker Edward Snowden at Sheremetyevo airport Friday, was one of the luckier ones.
“We had a visit from the (state) prosecutors in March, when they spent five hours in my office,” he said. “In May I was summoned for questioning by the prosecutor’s office. This is happening all over the country. We’re a large organization so we’re more protected, but others are in a worse situation. We have no idea what will happen next.”
Not even orphans have been spared. About 300, some handicapped and in need of medical treatment, have had their American adoptions suspended by a law that retaliates against the U.S.’s Magnitsky act, which sanctions a list of officials suspected of involvement in the death of Russian tax whistleblower Sergei Magnitsky. Russian officials say the adoption ban is needed to protect orphans from American abuse
Interestingly, Putin has taken pains to show his warm and fuzzy side with animals, strapping into a hang glider to “direct” the cranes on their migratory flight, and refraining from the butchery of wild animals that would have been routine in the days of the czars and Soviet leaders. But the animals, alas, don’t have a vote.
Olivia Ward was bureau chief and correspondent in the former Soviet Union from 1992-2002, covering conflicts, politics and human rights.