Vladimir Putin has admitted to staging some of his most famous stunts, including meeting endangered big cats and the “discovery” of ancient Greek amphorae in the Black sea, a Russian journalist has claimed.
By Roland Oliphant, Moscow
5:21PM BST 13 Sep 2012
But the president complained that while he was ridiculed for his stage managed photo opportunities, they at least raised awareness and encouraged people to “start reading” about history and the environmental issues.
The comments came during a bizarre 20 minute conversation in the Kremlin with an opposition journalist who claims to have recently lost her job over refusing to cover his most recent stunt.
Masha Gessen, who recently published a fiercely critical biography of Mr Putin, was sacked as editor of Vokrug Sveta [Around the World] magazine for refusing to send a reporter to cover the Russian president’s photo opportunity – a microlight flight with endangered Siberian cranes – earlier this month.
Vladimir Putin sits in a motorised deltaplane near a crane at Yamalo-Nenets district
In an article published on Tuesday in Moscow’s Big City Journal, she said the Russian president unexpectedly rang her soon afterwards to express his regret at “inadvertently becoming the cause” of her sacking and invite her to the Kremlin, where in an unexpected frank admission, he acknowledged many of the stunts are stage managed.
“Well, there was overexposure, and I was to blame for that,” he allegedly said. “But I came up with these tigers! 20 countries that are home to tigers, also began to do it. And I came up with leopard! Yes, I know the leopard was caught in advance. But the main thing is to draw attention to the problem. It’s like the amphoras. Then they all started shouting that amphorae were planted. Well of course they were planted!”
Mr Putin appeared to be referring to a March 2011 episode when he met a snow leopard while visiting a conservation programme in Khakassia, Siberia. It later transpired the creature had been captured 100 miles away in the Krasnayarsk region and held for a week in preparation for the visit. Conservationists claimed the leopard suffered serious injuries when trying to escape from captivity.
Later that year he was ridiculed after recovering several amphorae during a dive with marine archaeologists at an ancient Greek site on the Black Sea coast in 2011. His spokesman eventually conceded the artefacts had been placed deliberately on the sea bed for him to “find.”
Mr Putin said he dived at the site to help “people to know their own history.”
Vladimir Putin rests after diving during a visit to an archeological excavation of an ancient Greek port on the Taman Peninsula
Miss Gessen said she had not sent a reporter to cover Mr Putin’s cranes’ photo opportunity, because of concerns surrounding the organisation of previous wildlife stunts – including rumours that a tiger he radio-tagged in 2008 was actually taken from Khabarovsk zoo, and that a Polar bear he met in 2009 had been captured and kept strongly sedated for several days especially for his visit.
He went on to offer to get Ms Gessen her job back. She said she declined the invitation.
Mr Putin’s spokesman said on Thursday that Ms Gessen had recounted the meeting generally accurately, but had “missed out” a few details.