MOSCOW (AP) — As Vladimir Putin begins his fourth term as Russia’s president, his image is ubiquitous at home and effectively Russia’s “brand” worldwide.
A fixture on state television, Putin shows up daily — giving instructions to officials, meeting workers and visiting heads of state, surveying new medical, aerospace and defense facilities. Not infrequently, he shows up in a more casual setting such as playing hockey or skiing.
At Sheremetyevo International Airport and souvenir stands throughout Moscow, Putin’s sober, stern visage gazes out from T-shirts, mugs, matryoshka nesting dolls and refrigerator magnets. Sometimes, the images combine respect with a touch of humor, such as the popular portrayal of him riding a bear, his shirtless torso showing impressive muscles.
Analysts say Putin’s portrayal is subtly shifting.
“Putin has started to shift from the image of the fighter and a miracle-maker to the image of a considered man and the leader of a young team,” says Yevgeny Minchenko, a Moscow-based political consultant.
“He’s now a wise ruler, who doesn’t go solving the issues at hand, but he sets a strategic course and appoints talented young people who are able to implement this course.”
Although his face is widespread, the portrayal stops short of the omnipresence that characterizes personality cults such as those of Kim Jong Un in North Korea or Turkmenistan’s Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov.
“He’s a person of a European culture. All these Asian things are sort of unpleasant to him. Putin’s nature is quite reserved. So to him, as a professional spy, the grotesque displays of loyalty are suspicious rather than pleasant,” says Minchenko.
For many Russian enterprises, Putin’s face is a commercial opportunity.
The founders of Syet, a pro-Putin group which designs merchandise and slogans emblazoned with his image and message, have sought to capitalize on what they call “the Putin brand.”
Gleb Kraynik, one of the designers behind the Syet project, beams as he holds up a bold, heavy knuckleduster embossed with the face of Russia’s president. He has dubbed it the “Putinversheter ring”, which means a person who understands Putin in German.
“Putin is without a doubt the country’s brand,” says Kraynik. “If before when you asked a foreigner what he thought of when he thought of Russia, he’d said: matryoshka, balalaika, caviar, vodka. Then now whatever opinion he has on our president, he’ll say Putin.”