Over the past months the Kremlin has given Russian bloggers more than the usual amount of fodder to ridicule the government and President Vladimir Putin. The curious PR-stunts show no signs of abating. Case in point — Vladimir Putin’s old judo coach, and self-proclaimed “second father,” Anatoly Rakhlin, passed away last week from an undisclosed illness. Two days later Putin returned [ru] to his native St. Petersburg to attend Rakhlin’s funeral. After the funeral, the state sponsored Russia Today aired footage of Putin walking alone down the streets of his native city, looking sad and forlorn.
From the relative emptiness of the usually busy St. Petersburg streets, it was very obvious that the touching stroll was staged. And so the jokes from opposition bloggers started immediately.
Путин так держится за власть, потому что ничего не умеет и не знает. Не знает даже как дорогу переходить pic.twitter.com/95A69jE21H
— Пeрзидент Роисси (@KermlinRussia) August 9, 2013
Putin clings to power because he doesn’t know how to do anything. He does not even know how to cross a road.
Blogger and social activist Mitya Aleshkovsky pointed out [ru] that Putin had, in fact, broken the law:
Однако, штраф за нарушение этих правил безопасности дорожного движения, в совокупности – 500 рублей. Но не для президента, он гуляет где хочет, когда хочет, и как хочет. Напоминаю, что сегодня – рабочий день, и его прогулки вполне могут сорвать кому-либо рабочую встречу, производственный план, личные или бизнес-договоренности, ну и так далее, но все мирские проблемы меркнут когда его величеству грустно.
By the way, the fine for violating road safety rules is all in all 500 rubles. But not for the president, he walks where he wants, when he wants and how he wants. I remind you that today is a work day, and his walk may well derail someone's working meeting, productivity, personal or business arrangements, and so on, but all worldly problems pale when his Majesty is sad.
The photographer Rustem Adagamov noted [ru] that activist and head of the Federation of Russian Car Owners, Vadim Korovin, had been fined for a pedestrian traffic violation just the day before:
Вчера вот Коровина оштрафовали за переход улицы в неположенном месте. А почему гаишник Путина не штрафует?
— Рустем Адагамов (@adagamov) August 9, 2013
Yesterday Korovin was fined for crossing the street in the wrong place. Why wasn’t Putin fined by a traffic cop?
Some, like opposition member Roman Dobrokhotov mocked [ru] Putin's presumed sad mood:
На самом деле зря вы все, “постановка”, “пиар на крови” – глупости все это. На самом деле Путин тоже человек. Просто отошел отлить.
— Roman Dobrokhotov (@Dobrokhotov) August 9, 2013
Really, I think you are all wrong [about the stroll being] “set-up,” “cynical PR” – that's all foolish. Actually, Putin is simply a man. He just went to take a piss.
Others, like the journalist Arkady Babchenko joked [ru] about the empty streets:
Какие питерцы молодцы – полностью решили проблему с парковками и пробками. Да и вообще с машинами. Да и с людьми.
Well done to the residents of St. Petersburg – they have completely solved the problems of parking and traffic-jams. And cars in general. And people.
This is the fourth public relations stunt the Kremlin has presented to the Russian public in the last month. First, Russians were shown Putin going down in a submarine at around the same time that Alexei Navalny returned to Moscow from his Kirov trial. This was followed by Putin’s fishing trip [GV], after which Putin’s press secretary was called out for lying about the weight of the President’s fish. Then there was Putin’s lackluster appearance at the annual Seliger youth camp, where he talked to a man in a cucumber suit. And finally, this. Has the Kremlin lost the plot? Or is this a series of clever attempts to distract public attention from important issues like the coming Moscow mayoral elections?