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Putin, Russia's Man Of Action, Is Slowed By Injury

Posted: November 3, 2012

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Russian President Vladimir Putin was seen wincing shortly after piloting a hang glider on national TV. The Kremlin is downplaying reports that he's suffering from back pain. The 60-year-old leader has cultivated a macho image by riding a horse bare-chested in Siberia and diving to an archaeological site in the Black Sea.

Russian President Vladimir Putin pilots a motorized hang glider while taking part in a project to help endangered cranes on Sept. 5. Shortly after, the president — who has cultivated the image of a man of action — was photographed wincing in apparent pain.

Russian President Vladimir Putin pilots a motorized hang glider while taking part in a project to help endangered cranes on Sept. 5. Shortly after, the president — who has cultivated the image of a man of action — was photographed wincing in apparent pain. Alexey Druzhinin/Yuri Kadobnov

Putin, who was prime minister at the time, rides a horse in southern Siberia's Tuva region on Aug. 3, 2009.

Putin, who was prime minister at the time, rides a horse in southern Siberia's Tuva region on Aug. 3, 2009. Ria Novosti

Take it easy, tough guy.

Russian officials are acknowledging that President Vladimir Putin has been slowed by back problems, but they insist he won't be sidelined for long.

Rumors about an injury began to float in early September, when the Russian leader was seen wincing at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Vladivostok.

A Kremlin spokesman said it's a minor injury, about what you'd expect in an athletic fellow like the 60-year-old Putin. Nonetheless, several overseas trips have been canceled.

There's no word on what the president may be using in terms of liniment, but it must be a bitter treatment for someone who has carefully cultivated his image as an all-around man of action.

Just days before the Vladivostok meeting, Putin had appeared on TV, taking part in a project to help endangered Siberian cranes.

The project involves getting cranes raised in captivity to follow a motorized hang glider that will lead them on their southward migration.

Russia's state-run TV channels showed the president, clad in a puffy white flight suit. He was said to be reassuring to the cranes.

After the short flight with another pilot in the glider, Putin told reporters that flying the lightweight craft was trickier than flying a fighter jet — something he has also done.

In the video, it can be seen that Putin's co-pilot has his hands on the controls at all times.

Over the years, the president's well-documented adventures have shown him riding bare-chested on a horse in Siberia, boxing, swimming and practicing his favorite martial art, judo.

In 2009, he boarded a research submarine on a dive to the bottom of Lake Baikal, where he enthused over the clarity of the water.

The president's action photo-ops tend to take place in late summer, and in August of 2011, he outdid himself, diving on an archaeological site in the Black Sea.

In just a few minutes of diving, Putin was shown "discovering" big, clean, well-preserved pieces of ancient pottery in the shallow waters.

Detractors pointed out that the pottery was a bit too clean — and a spokesman later admitted it was planted on the site for the president to find.

State-controlled TV anchors and government spokespeople say all of Putin's stunts have a serious purpose — to showcase worthy scientific projects or raise awareness for conservation.

Critics say the show is a lot more about presidential ego and PR.

Either way, the president's back injury may sideline him from any more he-man exploits in the near future.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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