Russian President Vladimir Putin is know for his bizarre photos ops. In the West these seems crazy. They’re the type of things we turn into Internet memes They make great animated gifs. There are entire Tumblrs dedicated to “Shirtless Putin Doin’ Things” Action figures showing him riding bears and doing other crazy things. But where we in the West see this as the crazy antics of an ego maniac In Russia they actually have a very important political purpose. “That’s an image that looks like it should be airbrushed onto the side of a van in New Jersey rest area.” So, in Russia, Putin’s image is crafted to make him seem like a figure that is both powerful and lovable So that is what it says when Putin is interacting with Animals or children. But also is very careful in these photos To stage them so that he’s powerful: He’s riding the horse, surveying the land around him. Often they show him as if he’s stepped into someone else’s profession for a day and had incredible success. On one occasion he appeared as a dentist. He’s famously had a photo op in the Black Sea where he was shown emerging from the water carrying two ancient Greek amphorae which are these incredible archeological finds. And the initial story is that he had just happened to be swimming and discovered them. But it quickly came out that they had been planted there for him to discover. So the message from all of these is that he is this incredibly impressive individual. But it also has a more simple and direct message which is: The truth is that power in Russia is centralized with Putin to an incredible degree. There no clear successor in place. It’s not clear at all what the government would look like without him. And that makes it pretty scary for people to contemplate what would happen if Putin were to become seriously ill. They also reassure Russians that Putin is healthy and strong. He is trying to live up to this Russian ideal of the “real man” the person who is strong and impressive and macho and powerful. A lot of these photos are also designed to show impressive Russia is. When he’s hunting that a reminder of its wealth of wildlife and natural resoures. No one is as popular as Putin. No one is as recognizable. No one as that populist appeal. And when he shows that he has these high levels of popularity, that’s how he shows the elites, “I got this” You don’t need to worry that the country is going to slip from my grasp. And it’s also a way of reminding them that there is no one else but Putin. There is no other figure in Russia that has the same level of bother popular support and elite support. (Putin singing) These photos might seem weird and crazy to us But they also tell us a lot about Putin’s strategy about where he stands both with the Russian public and with Russian elites.