Cult of Putin

Updated 0033 GMT (0833 HKT) December 26, 2015
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While his nation waded deeper into the Syrian civil war, Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, spent his 63rd birthday on the ice Wednesday, October 7, playing hockey with NHL stars and various Russian officials and tycoons in Sochi. For years, Russia's leader has cultivated a populist image in the Russian media. ALEXEI NIKOLSKY/AFP/Getty Images
Putin holds a cat as he inspects housing built for victims of wildfires in the village of Krasnopolye, in a region in southeastern Siberia, Russia, on Friday, September 4. Alexei Druzhinin/AP
Putin, left, and Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev jokingly toast at a lunch during a meeting at the Black Sea resort in Sochi, Russia, on Sunday, August 30. Mikhail Klimentyev/Presidential Press Service/RIA Novosti/AP
Putin exercises during his meeting with Medvedev on August 30. Mikhail Klimentyev/AP
Putin sits in a bathyscaphe as it plunges into the Black Sea along the coast of Sevastopol, Crimea, on Tuesday, August 18. Putin went underwater to see the wreckage of an ancient merchant ship that was found in the end of May. Alexei Nikolsky/Kremlin Pool Photo/AP
Putin holds a Persian leopard cub in February 2014 at a breeding and rehabilitation center in the Black Sea resort of Sochi. Perhaps the most important vote in Russia's public selection of a new Olympic mascot was cast when Putin said he wanted a funky leopard to represent the 2014 Sochi Winter Games. ALEXEI NIKOLSKY/AFP/Getty Images
Putin holds a pike he caught in the Siberian Tuva region of Russia on July 20, 2013. Alexei Nikolsky/RIA-Novosti/Presidential Press Service/AP
Putin enjoys some fishing during his vacation to the Tuva region on July 20, 2013. ALEXEY DRUZHININ/AFP/Getty Images
Putin submerges on board Sea Explorer 5 bathyscaphe near the isle of Gogland in the Gulf of Finland on July 15, 2013. ALEXEI NIKOLSKY/AFP/Getty Image
Putin studies a crane during an experiment called Flight of Hope on September 5, 2012, in which he piloted a hang glider, aiming to lead the birds into flight. It's part of a project to save the rare species of crane. ALEXEY DRUZHININ/AFP/GettyImage
Putin takes part in a training session for young ice hockey players before the "Golden Puck" youth tournament final in Moscow on April 15, 2011. ALEKSEY NIKOLSKYI/AFP/Getty Images
Putin rides a Harley-Davidson to an international biker convention in southern Ukraine on July 14, 2010. ALEXANDER ZEMLIANICHENKO/AFP/Getty Images
The Russian president aims at a whale with an arbalest (crossbow) to take a piece of its skin for analysis at Olga Bay on August 25, 2010. ALEXEY DRUZHININ/AFP/Getty Images
A wetsuit-clad Putin embarks on a dive to an underwater archaeological site at Phanagoria on the Taman Peninsula on August 10, 2011. aLEXEY DRUZHININ/AFP/Getty Images
Famed for his love of martial arts, Putin throws a competitor in a judo session at an athletics school in St. Petersburg on December 18, 2009. ALEXEY DRUZHININ/AFP/Getty Images
Putin during his vacation in southern Siberia on August 3, 2009. ALEXEY DRUZHININ/AFP/Getty Images
Putin swims the butterfly during his vacation outside the town of Kyzyl in southern Siberia on August 3, 2009. ALEXEY DRUZHININ/AFP/Getty Images
Assisted by a Russian scientist, Putin fixes a satellite transmitter to a tiger during his visit to the Ussuriysky forest reserve of the Russian Academy of Sciences in the Far East on August 31, 2008. ALEXEY DRUZHININ/AFP/Getty Images
Putin carries a hunting rifle in the Republic of Tuva on September 3, 2007. DMITRY ASTAKHOV/AFP/Getty Images
A shirtless Putin fishing in the headwaters of the Yenisei River in the Republic of Tuva on August 13, 2007. DMITRY ASTAKHOV/AFP/Getty Images
Putin in the cockpit of a Tupolev Tu-160 strategic bomber jet at a military airport on August 16, 2005, before his supersonic flight. VLADIMIR RODIONOV/AFP/Getty Images)