The four-hour round trip to the lake floor – the deepest in the world – ostensibly gave the prime minister the chance to inspect a deposit of valuable crystals containing one of Russia’s most important resources: natural gas.
But Western news agencies note that the dive serves a new tack taken by the Kremlin in crafting Putin’s image. The tough former president – who has appeared in the press tranquilizing a tiger, demonstrating his mastery of judo, and fishing bare-chested in a Russian river – is now showing his softer, environmentally conscious side.
"I've never experienced anything like it in my life," the prime minister...told state television aboard the support ship after resurfacing. "It's a special feeling. What I saw impressed me because with my own eyes I could see how Baikal is, in all its grandeur, in all its greatness," he added.
Reuters also notes that Putin has played a role in preserving that grandeur, at least for the time being:
Sensitive to Russia's growing environmental movement, Putin while president changed the route of a planned oil pipeline to avoid Lake Baikal, which contains one fifth of the world's unfrozen freshwater.
A day before the dive, the new green Putin was also on display in Russia’s Far East, as he helped scientists attach a satellite tracking tag to a Beluga whale named Dasha.
-- Margot Buff