Vladimir Putin has come clean.
Russia’s president and resident wannabe action star has admitted what all but the most ardent believers of his nation’s state media had already put together: Those absurd photos documenting his macho exploits—from shooting a wild tiger with a tranquilizer gun to discovering an ancient treasure while deep-sea diving—were carefully staged.
“Of course it was a set up,” Putin told a Russian journalist this week about the time he dove to the bottom of the Black Sea and returned with an ancient Greek vase, a comment that could serve more or less as blanket quote for the rest of his action resume.
The way Putin tells it, however, those easily-ridiculed photo-ops aren’t about his carefully crafted strongman image but instead about wildlife conservation and the other causes he apparently champions. “Why did I dive?” he said. “Not to show my gills off but to make sure people learn history.”
As Reuters explains, Putin’s spokesman had previously admitted that at least one of the high-profile stunts was staged, but his boss had mostly played along as state media covered his outdoor action highlights as though they were the real deal.
Putin’s admission came in an interview with Masha Gessen, a journalist who lost her job as editor of a travel magazine for refusing to send reporters to cover Putin’s recent crane flight. Reuters has the rest of that rather complicated story here.