Russian state media has released video of President Vladimir Putin showing off with a new Kalashnikov sniper rifle in the latest stunt intended to burnish his macho image.
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In the video, Putin is seen staring down the scope of the SVCh-308 rifle and shooting at targets at a range in Kubinka, close to Moscow. The semi-automatic compact rifle is the latest model produced by Kalashnikov, the iconic Russian weapons maker, and is reportedly viewed as a potential successor to the famous Dragunov sniper rifle.
Russian state media claimed that Putin hit three out of five targets. In breathless coverage, a reporter from Russia’s main state broadcaster, Channel 1, noted that Putin had acted like a professional sniper, holding his breath and waiting between heartbeats to fire.
Putin has repeatedly posed with Kalashnikov’s weapons over the years and has made action hero stunts a key element of his political image since he came to power in 1999. He has stalked tigers, fought forest fires from the air and dived in a miniature submarine in the Black Sea, to name a few of the performances that have garnered him comparisons to a James Bond villain by the international press.
The stunts, experts say, are part of a deliberate strategy intended to create a mystique around Putin.
Gleb Pavlovsky, a former Kremlin adviser who helped craft Putin’s image during his first two terms as president, said that he and others had landed upon the idea of creating a president modeled around a movie hero. Putin had mastered the role though it risked becoming stale, he admitted.
“Now he repeats all the old tricks of his image,” Pavlovsky told ABC News. ”It’s all the same: sport, military machines, kids, animals. But now he performs like an old actor. He’s not performing entirely seriously. He remembers how he performed it 15 years ago.”
Since his invasion of Crimea in 2014 and his later intervention in Syria, Putin’s embrace of his role as a more militaristic leader has helped lift his approval ratings to exceptional highs.
But the limits of that image have shown themselves in recent weeks, as the Kremlin has confronted broad discontent around an unpopular reform to raise the pension age. Putin’s approval rating among Russians fell from 79 percent in May to 67 percent in July, according to Russia's only independent pollster, the Levada Center. In response, Putin announced a softening of the reform but has said it will go ahead.