Tough-Talking Putin Crafted Image His Way When he steps down as Russian president next week, Vladimir Putin will leave with approval ratings most leaders can only dream about. One of the secrets to his success comes from a carefully crafted image as the country's tough-guy-in-charge.

Tough-Talking Putin Crafted Image His Way

Tough-Talking Putin Crafted Image His Way

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Since his days in the KGB, Russian President Vladimir Putin has meticulously crafted his image as a tough-talking man-in-charge. Mladen Antonov/EPA/Corbis hide caption

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Mladen Antonov/EPA/Corbis

Since his days in the KGB, Russian President Vladimir Putin has meticulously crafted his image as a tough-talking man-in-charge.

Mladen Antonov/EPA/Corbis

Managing Putin's Image

The Kremlin has worked hard to build Putin's public image as Russia's virile "national leader" whose authority extends beyond his presidency.

In 2002, a pop band called Singing Together released a song titled "I Want Someone Like Putin" with the following lyrics:

Someone like Putin, full of strength

Someone like Putin, who doesn't drink

Someone like Putin, who doesn't hurt me

Someone like Putin, who won't run away

Putin's United Russia Party played the song during political campaign events last year.

Listen to "I Want Someone Like Putin" by Singing Together.

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In 2007, Putin was photographed bare-chested during a vacation in Siberia with Monaco's Prince Albert. And during a news conference in April 2008, Putin appeared pleased while dismissing rumors he had secretly divorced his wife and planned to marry an Olympic gymnast.

The Kremlin has also been sensitive about possible negative images. In 2003, rumors circulated that the authorities suspected a deliberate attempt by Hollywood to mock Putin by making an animated character resemble him: Dobby the house elf, from the film Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. Russian media jumped on the news by loudly debating the resemblance.

— Gregory Feifer

Putin stripped off his shirt for the cameras while vacationing in the Siberian mountains last year, prompting a squall of gossip from critics and setting admirers' hearts aflutter. Dmitry Astakhov/AP Photo/RIA-Novosti hide caption

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Dmitry Astakhov/AP Photo/RIA-Novosti

Putin stripped off his shirt for the cameras while vacationing in the Siberian mountains last year, prompting a squall of gossip from critics and setting admirers' hearts aflutter.

Dmitry Astakhov/AP Photo/RIA-Novosti

He will step down as president with an 80 percent approval rating. In 2006, he met with children visiting the Kremlin's ice skating rink in Red Square. Mikhail Klimentyev/ITAR-TASS/Corbis hide caption

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Mikhail Klimentyev/ITAR-TASS/Corbis

He will step down as president with an 80 percent approval rating. In 2006, he met with children visiting the Kremlin's ice skating rink in Red Square.

Mikhail Klimentyev/ITAR-TASS/Corbis

Few people had heard of Vladimir Putin when Russia's then-President Boris Yeltsin appointed him prime minister in 1999. But the stern-faced former KGB officer triggered a love affair with the Russian population — by starting a popular second war in Chechnya later that year.

Soon after hostilities began, the man who later became president surprised the country with the first of what became known as "Putinisms." He issued a threat to Chechen rebels using slang terms usually heard only in Russia's notoriously tough prisons.

"If they're in the airport," Putin said, "we'll kill them there ... and excuse me, but if we find them in the toilet, we'll exterminate them in their outhouses."

When Putin steps down as Russia's president next week, he will leave with approval ratings most leaders can only dream about. More than 80 percent of Russians say he has done a good job in office. His famous tough talk and outbursts might appear crude to foreigners — and even to many Russians — but they're essential to his carefully controlled public image, projected by a highly talented performer.

A Way With Words

Since he was first elected president, in 2000, Putin has systematically rolled back media freedom in Russia. Yet he's also forged a love-hate relationship with journalists.

When Putin appears in front of more than 1,000 reporters during his annual news conferences, he owns the room, keeping reporters fascinated for hours by alternating between threats, jokes and flirtation.

One journalist said in 2006 that she was speaking for all blond women when she asked why Putin looked so fit and attractive. His answer was that he doesn't drink and plays plenty of sports. He then asked her to convey his greetings to all blond women.

Putin has often lost his temper in public. During a 2002 news conference in Brussels, Belgium, the president responded to a question that angered him by inviting a reporter to come to Moscow to be circumcised.

"We have specialists in this question, as well," Putin said. "I'll recommend that he carry out the operation in such a way that nothing will grow back."

Crafting His Image

Even some of Putin's biggest critics say he knows how to work an audience. Boris Nemtsov, a former deputy prime minister of Russia, says Putin learned how to craft his image in a special educational program at a school for KGB officers.

"He studied at KGB school ... how to attract people, how to be comfortable. ... And I believe that he studied well," Nemtsov says.

Natalia Muravieva, rector of Moscow's Academy of Communications and Information, says Putin is a highly dynamic politician whose speeches are intricately crafted.

"Putin uses a lot of repetition that builds to a crescendo," Muravieva says. "And his widely reported aphorisms are like gems. They're few and far between, and everyone remembers them."

Russians won't necessarily be deprived of such gems just because Putin's term as president is expiring. He's used his tremendous popularity to retain much of his power.

His self-appointed successor, Dimitri Medvedev, who was recently elected president and takes office May 7, has said Putin will be prime minister and head of the country's biggest political party.

Both platforms will give Putin plenty of opportunity to create new Putinisms.