Putin drives across Siberia in yellow Lada
Vladimir Putin has spent his summer in macho encounters with wild animals, but on Friday he took on an even greater challenge: driving 2,000 kilometres across Siberia in a canary-yellow Lada.
Accompanied by television cameras, the Russian prime minister set out on the gruelling 2,000-kilometre (1,200 mile) drive between the Far Eastern city of Khabarovsk and Siberia's Chita.
Wearing sunglasses and a casual polo shirt, Putin took the wheel of a brand-new Lada Kalina Sport, produced by the Avtovaz carmaker, which the government has supported with huge investment.
He was shown filling up the boxy car, which has toned windows and a jaunty Lada logo on its side, and driving past a sign reading "Chita 1910 kilometres."
The trip came after Putin watched a brown bear in the wild and chased a grey whale in rough seas in the remote region of Kamchatka as part of a working trip to the Far Eastern region.
Lada's makers asked him to test the car, Putin said in comments published on his web site, adding that he did not plan to drive it himself all the way and did not pick the colour, which he called "youthful."
Putin need not fear a breakdown, since Russian television showed that the hatchback was accompanied by the prime minister's usual cortege of sleek black jeeps which dwarfed the modest yellow Lada.
Putin will drive along a new highway that is the first ever road to cross the remote wilderness between Siberia and Far East Russia, previously only passable by rail or air.
The road is due to open for traffic in September.
"This is a significant event for Russia, in a certain sense historic," Putin said in comments published on his official web site.
Russia "has never in its history -- never! -- been fully linked up with highways," he added.
His trip is a major publicity coup for Avtovaz who were plunged into crisis by the economic slowdown and still struggle to shake off the Lada's poor image which has become the butt of numerous jokes abroad.
© 2010 AFP