When a scuba-diving Vladimir Putin found two ancient Greek urns on the floor of the Black Sea this week, it seemed a startling discovery. In his latest spurt of televised heroics, the Russian prime minister raised a triumphant thumb as he circled the pair of amphorae in shallow waters off the Taman peninsula near Ukraine.
The find came to “everyone’s utter surprise”, claimed the slavishly devotional Russia Today and other state-controlled TV channels. Once on dry land, Putin posed in his wetsuit with a jug in each hand.
But independent media and Russia’s lively blogosphere are now ridiculing the incident, in a sign of increasing weariness of Putin’s macho photo ops – such as bare-chested fishing, piloting a “water bomber” over forest fires and diving to the bottom of lake Baikal in a mini-submarine.
Critics said Putin’s pots were suspiciously unmossy and were probably planted specially for him to discover.
“Diving in the Taman gulf, the Russian prime minister immediately found two amphorae that had been waiting for him since the 6th century AD at a depth of two metres,” wrote the Novaya Gazeta newspaper in an editorial dripping with sarcasm. “He was lucky: in the same place, over the last two years archaeologists and divers of the Russian Academy of Sciences managed to find only a few pottery shards.”
Putin’s visit was meant to highlight the work of Russian scientists exploring the remains of an ancient Greek city, Phanagoria, sometimes called “Russia’s Atlantis”. The site is not far from Sochi, the Black Sea resort that will host the 2014 Winter Olympic Games, and authorities hope to develop its tourism potential.
Yet critics saw the dive as another farcical stunt designed to boost Putin’s image before elections in December and March.
“We have become witnesses of a remake of The Diamond Hand and the famous fishing scene at the white cliff,” said radio host Anton Orekh, referring to a scene from a Soviet film in which a diver attaches fish to an angler’s hook in order to simulate a plentiful catch.