Why does Putin have a rugged reputation?

In 1999, then Prime Minister Putin uttered a harsh declaration against terrorism, promising that the Russian security forces would, if necessary, "waste the terrorists in the outhouse." This was the first but not the last severe statement that the Russian leader would make.

In 1999, then Prime Minister Putin uttered a harsh declaration against terrorism, promising that the Russian security forces would, if necessary, "waste the terrorists in the outhouse." This was the first but not the last severe statement that the Russian leader would make.

Varvara Grankova
"How does vodka...?" "Why does Putin…?" RBTH has collected the most popular user search questions. "Why Russia?" is a series of articles where we will answer each question in detail. Today, the topic is President Vladimir Putin and his rugged public image.

In 1999, then Prime Minister Putin uttered a harsh declaration against terrorism, promising that the Russian security forces would, if necessary, "waste the terrorists in the outhouse." This was the first but not the last severe statement that the Russian leader would make. Source: Varvara GrankovaIn 1999, then Prime Minister Putin uttered a harsh declaration against terrorism, promising that the Russian security forces would, if necessary, "waste the terrorists in the outhouse." This was the first but not the last severe statement that the Russian leader would make. Source: Varvara Grankova

Vladimir Putin made one of his most famous statements just before he became president. In 1999, then Prime Minister Putin uttered a harsh declaration against terrorism, promising that the Russian security forces would, if necessary, "waste the terrorists in the outhouse." This was the first but not the last severe statement that the Russian leader would make.

Macho man

Putin has spoken harshly about many problems, including international issues. "Do you understand now what you've caused?" he scolded Western leaders from the podium of the United Nations General Assembly in 2015, saying that their "democratization" policy in the Middle East resulted in the rise of the Islamic State.

On Jan. 17, commenting on rumors that Russia might have compromising material on Donald Trump who allegedly cavorted with Moscow prostitutes, Putin said that those who fabricated such rumors are "worse than prostitutes."

Putin has not limited himself, however, to rhetoric. During recent years at the helm of the Russian state, both as president and prime minister, the world has occasionally seen Putin’s macho side. He has shown his skills as a martial arts expert, flew a fighter plane, shot rifles, rode motorcycles, and raced cars.

He also shot a tiger with a tranquilizer dart, rode a horse bare-chested, soared to the skies with Siberian cranes and dove into the depths of the Black Sea where he found two ancient amphorae; later Presidential Press Secretary Dmitri Peskov admitted that archeologists had placed the amphorae in the water. The fact is however, that not every head of state can boast such an exciting and rugged lifestyle.

Cult of masculinity

Judging by the recollections of Putin's former Leningrad neighbors, he was very active and even mischievous as a boy.

"He grew up a restless child, and there's no need hiding that he often behaved like a hooligan," said Sergei Bogdanov, the future president's childhood friend, in an interview with Moskovsky Komsomolets.

Putin himself admits that his childhood had a big impact on his personality, and he often had to fight and be tough. "Fifty years ago the Leningrad streets taught me that if a fight is inevitable, you need to hit first," the politician said in 2015.

Valery Solovei, a political analyst and MGIMO professor, believes the reason for Putin's fondness for a rugged, virile image lies precisely in the past. "He grew up on the streets among, bluntly speaking, troublemakers," said Solovei. "A distinct cult of masculinity reigned in this environment, and demonstrating masculinity was considered normal."

For 16 years, from 1975-1991, Putin served in the KGB. Special service personnel, as well as the military, also admire masculinity, including brash displays of such behavior, remarked Solovei. This period of his life also had a tremendous impact on Putin.

Trump resembles Putin

There is no doubt about Putin's popularity. According to VCIOM, the Russian public opinion polling agency, Putin’s approval rating was 86 percent in December. Solovei is convinced that the president's virile and rugged image is a crucial element in his success, and Putin perfectly understands this.

"Putin projects the image of a strong leader and a real man," said Solovei. "When he has the chance, he loves demonstrating the external aspects of this image - the behavior, the physique."

Solovei believes that the love of a "strong hand" and virile leadership is characteristic not only of Russia but of any society, "even the most democratic and refined." An example is Donald Trump's victory in the U.S. "If we look at it, Trump's behavior resembles Putin's," said Solovei. "Only he doesn't bare his chest."

This article is part of the "Why Russia…?" series in which RBTH answers popular questions about Russia.

Read more: Gopniks of the world, unite! Encounters with Russia’s macho low culture>>>

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