“If you’ve got it, flaunt it.” This age-old adage is something that Russian President Vladimir Putin seems to have taken very much to heart. Ever since Putin pole-vaulted his way into office in 2000, he has showcased an image of a “macho man” determined to show the world that Russia is a force to be reckoned with.
Bare-chested images of him riding on horseback, jumping into a freezing lake, riding a Harley into a bike show, Putin the “action hero” seems to have won Russians over. Despite blips, the Russian President has never faced a serious threat from any Opposition candidate since he came to office and his recent victory margin of 76.7 per cent in March shows this trend is likely to continue for some time.
Some would argue that the “Putin strongman” image is just that, a series of carefully constructed images designed to send a message to the West. But the narrative is more complicated than that. Putin’s personal history plays a strong role in making him the person he is.
The survival of his parents in the over 900-day-long siege of Leningrad by Nazi Germany instilled in the Russian President a very strong sense of survival and the notion of “Mother Russia”, at a very early age. This perhaps explains why the Russian Orthodox Church has risen during his premiership and why he is at pains to stress Russia’s glorious past. This was particularly important as the decade before Putin, crippled by staggering debts under Yeltsin, was seen by many Russians as a “decade of humiliation”.
To invoke Russia’s glorious past, Putin has turned to the Tzarist regime and towards particular Tsars to build up a national and personal narrative. Recently, he unveiled the statue of Tsar Alexander III and the parallels were not hard to miss. Alexander III, who ruled Russia from 1881 to 1894, was known as the “Peacemaker” as Russia fought no major wars during his reign. He was also conservative and a strong imposing figure at over six feet tall. Putin wants to showcase himself as a modern day Tsar with these attributes. He also wants Russians to remember their country in this imposing light.