Biker Putin roars into Ukraine rally on a Harley
Leaving a cloud of dust in his wake, a black-clad Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin roared into a rally in Ukraine on a Harley Davidson and hailed bikes as a "symbol of freedom".
Putin drove into the rally of bikers on the southern Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea astride a gigantic three-wheeled Lehman trike conversion Harley Davidson motorbike, wearing dark glasses and waving his black gloved hands.
The Russian prime minister is on a one-day trip to the south of Ukraine for talks with President Viktor Yanukovych but rarely misses any chance to burnish his hard man image.
"I greet you brothers!" he told the gathering of some 7,000 bikers after dismounting and taking to the stage for a speech.
The motorbike is the "the most democratic means of transport," declaimed Putin, who has been repeatedly criticised by activists for doing little to help political democracy in Russia.
"It's the boldest, the quickest transport and gives the biker the sweet feeling of freedom," said Putin.
"Without any exaggeration you can say that a bike is a symbol of freedom," added the Russian strongman.
He also warned bikers to "say no" to excessive speed and ended his speech with the unusual flourish of speaking in Ukrainian: "Khai Zhive Baik!" ("Long Live the Bike!").
The rally outside the Crimean port of Sevastopol -- the base of Russia's Black Sea Fleet -- was organised by one of Russia's oldest biking groups "The Night Wolves".
The location was not without political significance after Yanukovych's shock decision this year to extend the lease of the Black Sea fleet in Crimea by another quarter century rapidly warmed Moscow-Kiev ties.
Putin, who earlier hailed the new atmosphere created in ties by Yanukovych, then went into talks with the Ukrainian leader at the presidential dacha in the Crimean resort of Foros.
Possibly with an eye to burnishing his image ahead of 2012 presidential elections, Putin has over the last months engaged in an array of eye-catching media stunts.
These have ranged from caressing a wild polar bear in the Russian Far North, attending an ultimate fighting match with Hollywood hardman Jean-Claude Van Damme.
© 2010 AFP