This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.
Russian state television is never short on fawning coverage of President Vladimir Putin. But a new program devoted to his workweek is upping the obsequiousness.
The September 2 premiere of a show called “Moscow. Kremlin. Putin.” on state-controlled Rossia television devoted an hour to what it portrayed as the Russian president’s grueling schedule and passion for interacting with the public, as well as how he stays in such “amazing shape.”
It also brought out his spokesman, who told of Putin’s “love” for people and joked about how even wild goats and bears recognize and respect the Russian president.
The program, which Rossia is advertising as a weekly hour-long show, was hosted by Vladimir Solovyov, a prominent Kremlin-loyal television and radio host who has previously produced adulatory documentaries about Putin:
The new show comes after opinion polls showed a falling level of trust for Putin in recent months amid the government’s controversial plan to raise the retirement age, a plan Putin blessed in a televised address last week while making small concessions on an original reform bill approved in parliament.
Putin was praised during the program for his handling of the pension-reform issue, with a senior lawmaker saying the president “wasn’t scared to take responsibility” in the matter.
Here’s a summary of other things that Russian audiences were told about Putin in the program’s premiere:
‘He Loves Children’
The highest-profile guest on the premiere was Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, who described his boss as a fitness fanatic, an image the Kremlin has carefully cultivated for the Russian president — and which frequently triggers ridicule from critics.
Peskov said Putin swims a kilometer every day when his schedule allows, to which Solovyov replied that he can only “walk along the bottom” that far.
Solovyov told Peskov that it was clear from a report earlier in the program that Putin “loves children.”
“He has a very human, sincere attitude toward children. You can’t fake that,” Solovyov said.
“Putin doesn’t only love children. He loves people in general. He’s a very humane human,” Peskov replied.
Solovyov noted that the phrase “humane human” is typically associated with another leader — Soviet founder Vladimir Lenin — though Peskov brushed off any historical analogy.
Putin ‘Had To Fly Through A Storm’
The show also featured a segment about Putin’s visit to a center for gifted children in Russia’s Black Sea resort town of Sochi. Speaking with guest Pavel Zarubin, a Kremlin pool reporter who accompanied Putin on the trip, Solovyov said Putin “had to fly through a storm” to get there.
The program showed Putin interacting with talented young athletes, musicians, and mathematicians. One student asks Putin what inspires him, to which the president replied: “The success of the country.”
Zarubin also discussed Putin’s physical-fitness level, saying that he “can’t even understand how he keeps up this schedule, this marathon.”
Solovyov vowed to show viewers at the end of the program “the secrets of the president’s physical fitness, and why he is in such fantastic shape.”
Making good on that promise, the show delivered a segment later featuring scenes from Putin’s recent vacation in Russia’s Republic of Tuva, where he went hiking with Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and Federal Security Service chief Aleksandr Bortnikov.
The republic’s leader, Sholbana Kara-oola, tagged along and said he was still feeling the burn after hiking with Putin.
“My legs still hurt two days later,” he said in an interview shown during the segment.
‘You Don’t Mess Around With The President’
Putin wasn’t only dragging regional officials on punishing hikes, he was also making sure they take care of their constituents, according to Solovyov’s show.
The program showed a miner in the Kemerovo region of Siberia telling Putin that officials had yet to allocate an apartment for him that he was legally entitled to.
The segment then shows a photograph that Zarubin says was “coincidentally” taken and shows Putin keeping an eye on acting Governor Sergei Tsivilyov to make sure Tsivilyov gets the telephone number of every miner at the meeting.
“Only after a direct contact is established does [Putin] leave the mine,” Zarubin said in the report.
Back in the studio, Solovyov said: “I’m confident that there will be calls to double-check that everything that was promised is fulfilled. You don’t mess around with the president.”
The Goat Whisperer
Speaking with Peskov in the studio, Solovyov expressed concern for Putin’s safety during the president’s hikes in the wild, particularly in places where bears roam.
Peskov joked, however, that not even bears would bother Putin.
“What, the bear is an idiot? If he sees Putin, of course he’s going to mind his manners,” Peskov said.
Peskov added that during Putin’s trekking in Tuva, the group came across a group of wild goats.
“Being even the most skittish animals in the world, after seeing Putin, the goats didn’t run away,” Peskov said. “They continued to graze right next to him. As someone joked: They probably recognized him.”
The report from Tuva shown later in the program shows that Putin and his fellow travelers were on a boat when they observed the goats on a hillside.
Putin and the others whispered so as not to scare off the animals, but then spoke a bit louder when, according to the report, they realized the goats were unfazed.
“They’re not afraid of us,” Putin said. “We slammed the door, and they didn’t even move.”
‘Stalin’s Cult Of Personality Pales In Comparison’
The new program drew criticism from some as echoing the over-the-top deference to Soviet leaders. One Russian-language Twitter user wrote: “Stalin’s cult of personality PALES IN COMPARISON.”
Культ личности Сталина ОТДЫХАЕТ… https://t.co/c9egJRCnPX
— ЛуизаМ (@xa0xrvHGI7Y8NpS) September 3, 2018
Solovyov replied: “Not even close, and under a cult [of personality] you wouldn’t have written such a thing.”
Даже не близко) и при культе вы бы такое не написали )))
— Vladimir Soloviev (@VRSoloviev) September 3, 2018
Solovyov also took issue with one Twitter user who suggested that Russian viewers would now have to hear about what great shape Putin is in every week.
Глубокоуважаемая Вера, посмотрите программу и Вы убедитесь , что программа отнюдь не о физической форме Путина.
— Vladimir Soloviev (@VRSoloviev) September 3, 2018
“Watch the program, and you’ll see that the show is not just about Putin’s physical fitness,” Solovyov wrote.
In an opinion piece, Dmitry Kozelev, deputy editor of the Russian news site Znak.com, wrote that “having watched the program, one has to ask the question: What was that? An attempt to create a cult of personality, as some commentators immediately suggested?
“The media formats that worked effectively during the times of Lenin and Stalin had already triggered annoyance and irony among the population during the Brezhnev era,” Kozelev wrote.
“It’s hard to imagine that in 2018 — in the era of the Internet, trolling, and ubiquitous irony — even the most conservative sectors of the population would take such a narrative at face value,” he added.