MOSCOW -- The Russian Internet exploded this weekend after the Kremlin posted a video on its website in which President Vladimir Putin, the phenom of the outdoor adventure photo-op, catches a big pike -- a really, really big pike.
How big? That is the question that has consumed the Russian blogosphere, and led to an avalanche of humorous and sarcastic remarks.
In the video, Putin, dressed (of course) in a camouflage jacket and hat, lands (with the help of a military-clad assistant), a pike of prodigious size. His struggle with the pike lasted about three minutes, the Vesti television news program said.
As Putin tries to raise the pike on camera, the aide says: “Vladimir Vladimirovich, be careful, she can bite.”
“I will bite her myself,” says Putin, who then raises the pike, kisses it on the head and dumps it in a plastic container. “She is a beauty.”
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, who accompanied Putin during the fishing trip in southeast Siberia last weekend, estimated that the fish weighed between 12 and 15 kilograms -- 26.4 to 33 pounds.
Not to be outdone, Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov, said the pike actually weighed 21 kilos-- 46.3 pounds.
The response of the Russian blogosphere? No way.
Seasoned professional fishermen and amateurs alike began feverishly posting images of their own pike catches, which looked dramatically bigger and weighed less, they said. To prove their point, some posted pictures of scales.
“This pike weighs no more than [26.5 pounds],” one social network user wrote. “Unless it swallowed a bar of gold.”
“They must have forgotten to unfreeze the pike,” another user commented. “This is why it was so heavy.” [Freezing does not add weight to matter.]
“The Kremlin must have weighed the pike the way they count the votes,” one observer wrote in an obvious reference to persistent complaints that the presidential and parliamentary elections in Russia were manipulated.
Many Internet users refused to believe that Putin caught the pike himself.
“I wonder what is the name of the diver who put this pike on the hook,” one user commented.
“This diver should be awarded the title of the Hero of Russia [the highest official award in the Russian Federation],” another responded.
The last time Putin came under similar fire on the Internet was last August when he dived in the Black Sea in southern Russia and emerged with two ancient amphorae, which are ceramic containers.
At a mass protest rally last fall in Moscow where the most popular slogan was “For honest elections!” one demonstrator carried a poster which read: “For honest amphoras!”
Some political experts and the Kremlin’s political opponents often accuse Putin of turning Russian daily news coverage into his own personal reality show.
In recent years, Putin was seen with a polar bear, a tiger and a snow leopard, among other wildlife. In 2010, he used a cross-bow to shoot at a gray whale near Kamchatka. Last year, he led a flock of Siberian cranes along their migration route in a glider. Earlier this month, he was photographed in a submersible vessel during a dive to the remains of a sunken 19th century frigate.
“Doesn’t he really understand that such cheap tricks only irritate people?” one person wrote in an online post about the pike.
One user posted a joke in which the pike asks Putin to let it go; in return, the fish will fulfill his wishes. Replies Putin: “Are you dumb? There are people, enough to spare, who want to carry out my wishes. ... And you will be turned into cutlets.”
This last part proved true: Peskov told reporters that the pike was cut up for cooking.
Staunch Putin supporter and Kremlin adviser Sergei Markov said the Kremlin's image-makers might have overdone things a bit this time.
“Vladimir Putin loves to position himself not only as a tough [guy], which he really is, but as an ordinary man who deeply and sincerely loves nature and animals, the image that is generally welcomed by the public at large as natural and attractive,” Markov, who is vice president of the Plekhanov Russian University of Economics, said in an interview. “But I think it would play kind of better if he had caught a big pike but not a giant pike.”
“Although," he added, "I am sure neither Putin nor Peskov would lie about the pike’s weight!"
[For the record, 1:01 p.m. PDT, July 28: An earlier version of this article referred to the television show Vestri. The correct name is Vesti.]
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