Sunday, August 28, 2016


Driven To Distraction: Putin's Lada Stunt Backfires

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin behind the wheel of a Lada Kalina somewhere in Siberia in late August.
Prime Minister Vladimir Putin behind the wheel of a Lada Kalina somewhere in Siberia in late August.
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has spent much of the summer cultivating his image as a rugged leader, one day out in the wild tracking bears, the next chasing a gray whale in choppy seas off the country's Far East coast.

This week, Putin delivered his latest macho stunt -- a 2,000-kilometer drive across Siberia in a canary-yellow Lada Kalina, intended to boost Russia's flailing car industry and his own ratings ahead of a possible presidential comeback.

Putin was full of praise for the little Kalina, calling it "comfortable" and "reliable." He recommended that all Russians -- especially those currently driving Japanese cars -- buy one.

"You won't regret it," Putin promised.

Three In One

But it wasn't an altogether smooth ride.

An amateur video of Putin's ride featuring not one but three identical Lada Kalinas, one of them on a tow truck, is making the rounds on the Internet.

The clip, in which onlookers burst into raucous laughter, has received almost 300,000 hits since it was posted on August 30.

"A third one is coming!" an onlooker is heard saying. "It broke down. He wore it out! Ah, Kalina..."

Putin aims at a whale with an arbalest to take a piece of its skin for analysis on the Olga Bay last month.
Semyon Shifrin, one of the car buffs who shot the clip, tells RFE/RL he had "nothing against the prime minister." But he dismissed Putin's Lada stunt as laughable.

"We didn't expect to see as many as three of these much-advertised Lada Kalinas. It made us laugh," he says. "If they want to promote this car, why take three of them on the trip? Putin is a grown man. He can make repairs himself if something breaks. He could even turn this into a PR stunt."

The footage stands in sharp contrast with official Russian television reports, which showed a lone Putin riding his Lada across the vast Siberian expanses.

In addition to the three yellow Lada Kalinas, the clip also features huge numbers of official vehicles accompanying Putin. Shifrin says he stopped counting after 100.

The Russian government has already spent huge amounts in state aid to keep the Lada's manufacturer, Avtovaz, afloat. Many of the clip's viewers now denounce yet another expensive campaign to improve the poor image of Lada vehicles, which remain the butt of numerous jokes.

Tit For Tat

While Russian television has kept the embarrassing video under wraps, Belarus has not missed the chance to take revenge for a series of recent Russian television films discrediting Belarusian leader Alyaksandr Lukashenka.

Belarusian national television channel ONT on August 31 aired a biting report mocking Putin's road trip, marking a new low in already tense relations between Moscow and Minsk:

"The Internet is just swamped with criticism of Russian-made cars," the report says. "Even the Kalina made for Putin could not cope with the 350-kilometer stretch. It had to be replaced after breaking down."

This is not the first time Putin has personally stepped in to defend the maligned Lada brand, with arguable success.

The prime minister last year publicly heaped praise on his newly purchased Lada Niva jeep. The move could have given the Niva a much-needed publicity boost had Putin not admitted in January that his jeep had a customized German-made engine.

written by Claire Bigg, with contributions from RFE/RL's Russian Service
This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
by: Ray F. from: Lawrence, KS
September 02, 2010 20:30
Great report, with lots of food for thought. What would the reaction be if this story played on every major Russian news station? Would such a ‘revelation’ lead to greater revolutionary fervor? I seriously doubt it. I’m guessing that the average Russian understands the pokazyka nature of their political system, and as long as there is something like a chicken in the pot, a bottle of vodka, growing opportunities for their children, and a modicum of order, they are quite content to let this theater continue. Indeed, those Russians making fun of the PM’s convoy represent the greater part of humanity (whether Russian or ‘democratic’). How much easier to watch and criticize than get involved in the sticky muck of governance.

by: senjo
September 09, 2010 05:22
Perhaps the US President should have tried a similar stunt in a Chevy Volt as the US nationalized its auto industry in 2008/09. After all, every US citizen became an indirect part owner in GM.
But we know his handlers would never allow the risk of a similar outcome. I tip my shopka to Mr. Putin.

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