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The Times (UK)
December 5, 2001
President becomes a calendar pin-up

THE most sought-after Christmas present in the Kremlin this year is a 2002 calendar featuring not snowy landscapes, onion domes or even beautiful women, but the 12 faces of Russia’s new pin-up: President Putin.

The large-format calendar, 60cm by 90cm and issued in a limited edition of 1,000 copies, is the latest evidence of a growing cult of personality surrounding Mr Putin.

Although criticised by some Russians for placing restrictions on the media, and for getting too close to the United States too fast, he has sky-high popularity ratings and is widely admired for restoring national pride in the nearly two years since he took over from Boris Yeltsin. Unlike Mr Yeltsin, who, despite his defence of democracy, eventually became a figure of fun for his chaotic and sometimes drunken management of post-Communist Russia, Mr Putin is seen as upright, with a skilful and assured touch on foreign affairs and the economy. In his latest attempt to boost morale, Mr Putin inaugurated a new Bars-class nuclear submarine, the Gepard (Cheetah), yesterday at the Severodvinsk shipyard on the White Sea, 16 months after the sinking of the Kursk, in which 118 crew died.

The calendar reflects a growing campaign to show that he is not only a strong leader or vozhd in the Russian tradition — both Tsarist and Communist — but that he also has a human side that belies his image as a hard-faced former KGB agent.

The pictures, painted by Dmitri Vrubel and Viktoria Timofeeyeva, a husband and wife team, were not officially commissioned by the Kremlin and were based on photographs rather than sittings.

Mr Vrubel said that this was deliberate because they wanted to pin down certain expressions and match them to months, whereas when a subject sat for a portrait their expression kept changing. Mrs Timofeeyeva said: “In the end I felt we were painting a friend or a neighbour, not a leader who inspires fear.”

The paintings had unofficial approval and were being bought by Kremlin officials for their offices and to give as gifts, Mr Vrubel said. A senior official has given the calendar to Mr Putin, together with the original oil painting of the December portrait, which shows the Russian leader in a thoughtful pose. “He apparently liked it very much” Mr Vrubel said.

The President’s office has also bought the original of the calendar’s cover portrait — in effect, a thirteenth pose — which shows Mr Putin, a former judo champion, sitting cross-legged in his judo clothing.

Nezavisimaya Gazeta noted that the calendar was in contrast to the idealised pictures of Mr Putin available in Moscow bookshops, which were a throwback to the airbrushed portraits of Soviet times.

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