Putin 'discovers Greek urns' on scuba dive
Russia's hard man Prime Minister Vladimir Putin pulled on a wetsuit Wednesday and went scuba diving at an ancient Greek Black Sea site in the latest populist stunt ahead of next year's elections.
State news reports said he descended just two metres (6.6 feet) and had the stroke of luck to discover the two sixth century urns in full presence of the media because of the unusually clear water.
Television footage showed two moss-covered vases with ear-like handles sitting neatly next to each other on top of the sandy bottom as Putin swam into view.
"Treasure!" a dripping wet Putin told reporters with a big grin. "They drank it all already," he added when asked if there was anything left in the jars.
Putin -- a novice only attempting his third scuba dive -- came across the objects during an expedition on the southern Russian coast near Ukraine.
The footage received top billing over the global financial crisis on state television and made it onto the front pages of popular dailies in yet another indication of the former president's continued dominance in local politics.
But some in the media poured scorn on the 58-year-old's latest stunt as another example of how far officials and government aides are willing to go to get into the powerful prime minister's good books.
"Two barely-covered vessels were sitting in a clear spot and were well-lit" but the accompanying television camera, the NewsRu.com website wrote.
"Yet none of the people accompanying Putin dove for them, allowing the prime minister to make this amazing discovery himself," it sarcastically pointed out.
Yet Putin was clearly enthusiastic in his shiny grey suit as he explained the historical significance of his find.
"The head of the expedition said they are from the sixth century AD," Putin said with a diving mask imprint still clear on his face. This would date them to the time of the early Byzantine era.
"When the ships were being loaded at the port, the jars would often break and then they would get tossed overboard," Russia's de facto leader explained.
Footage showed Putin accompanied on the diving raft by Emergencies Minister Sergei Shoigu and the powerful metals tycoon Oleg Deripaska.
The Basic Element company chief reportedly told Putin that he forgot his diving suit and refused to go into the water.
"What, you ran out of money?" the LifeNews.ru website quoted Putin as asking the Russian oligarch.
Former Soviet intelligence officer Putin rose to the presidency in 2000 on the back of a carefully-cultivated image that mixed nationalist rhetoric with an action man image that set him apart from other Russian leaders.
He has flown a fighter jet into Chechnya and descended to the bottom of Lake Baikal in a special deep-sea vessel. Russian media have published photos of Putin wearing his judo black belt and stripped to his waist on a hunting trip.
One of his more daring escapades one year ago saw him chase whales off Russia's Pacific coast with a crossbow in hand.
Putin's adventures at times contrast with the apparently more sedate lifestyle of President Dmitry Medvedev -- a lawyer by training who has yet to commit himself to a second term amid speculation Putin himself may run.
The Russian president has also encountered the occasional media mishap.
Medvedev this summer nearly ran his SUV vehicle into a cheering crowd of supporters after forgetting to put the gear lever into park and has also become the hit of a viral video in which he was shown dancing at a friend's party.
Putin and Medvedev have vowed not to run against each other and will decide which of them will stand for the presidency soon.
© 2011 AFP