Call me a skeptic. For years, the world has been fed a constant stream of images of Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin engaged in what may be the longest running mid-life crisis in history. Putin has been shown as a race car driver, great white hunter, jet pilot, oceanologist, martial artist and other action hero outfits. Each appearance has been accompanied by some fawning account of his aides on how he is superhuman. Now, Putin’s macho action series has turned to scuba diving. While only having dived three times, Putin was shown at an ancient Greek Black sea site and . . . you guessed it . . . he “discovered” two sixth century urns under the water. What is really amazing is that the urn were less than seven feet from the surface, together, and just lying exposed for thousands of years waiting for Putin. It was almost like someone put them there and directed Putin who was only in the water for a brief time when he added world-class archeologist to this action hero box.
Of course, civil libertarians know Putin for his most successful role as an authoritarian bully who brags about beating protesters and almost single handedly stopped Russia’s move toward a free society.
The dive site is in the southern Russian coast near Ukraine. It was the location of the is colony founded by the Greeks some 2,500 years ago.
It is truly painful to watch these media events, which Putin clearly needs. Surrounded by sycophants, it reminds me of Mao’s famous Yangtze River swim where he set a world record by swimming 15 km in 65 min. The same cult of personality has been carefully constructed by Putin around himself to get Russian to love the man who has blocked basic freedoms in that country and has used state money to create a palace for himself. It appears to be working — even prompting aides to declare that Putin was sent by God.
There is an obvious danger in such cults of personality, particularly in Russia that has a long and troubled history of strongmen figures. What may appear a pathetic self-absorbed, self-aggrandizing display to us may prove far more sinister if Putin runs again for president. He appears to actually believe his own propaganda and views himself as a superhero — or worst yet, a messiah. That could prove a dangerous thing when the rest of the world balks in joining the celebration of all that is Putin.