For months the national support organization for Vladimir Putin has been releasing cartoons showing the Russian president executing allegedly corrupt officials in elaborate fashion.
Now Putin himself has invoked imagery of capital punishment, threatening "to hang" the person responsible for reconstruction of a highway in Crimea, the Ukrainian peninsula forcibly seized by Russia in 2014, if the individual "fails to do the job."
Speaking on Tuzla Island on March 18, Putin expressed surprise that local authorities are choosing contractors for the highway project connecting Crimea’s capital, Simferopol, with the Kerch Strait.
The general state plan to develop Crimea, after all, is being overseen by the Economic Development Ministry, while the project is under the supervision of the Transportation Ministry.
"We need a concrete person, whom it would be possible to hang if he fails to do the job," Putin was quoted by the state-run TASS news agency as saying.
Putin was visiting Crimea on March 18 to mark the second anniversary of the peninsula's annexation, which triggered Western sanctions targeting Moscow and preceded a bloody war between Russia-backed separatists and Kyiv’s forces in eastern Ukraine.
The reconstruction and widening of the Simferopol-Kerch highway is part of a plan to build a bridge across the strait to connect Russia with Crimea.
Kremlin critics say that much of the billions of dollars being poured into the peninsula is being looted, and senior officials in Crimea’s Moscow-backed government have been targeted in official corruption probes.
Road construction has long been plagued by graft and mismanagement in Russia, and Crimea appears to be facing similar obstacles.
As The New York Times reported, Kremlin auditors said in June 2015 that two-thirds of the funds that Russia had earmarked for road construction in the previous year was unaccounted for.
In June of last year, Igor Astakhov, deputy head of Roavtodor, Russia’s federal roads service, also deployed an execution-related metaphor to express his dismay with the fact that only 110 kilometers of a planned 198 kilometers of road had been repaired.
"It’s tough for me to imagine a situation in which road builders on federal thoroughfares or in Russian regions only completed 60 percent of a project: Heads would fly immediately." he told the government daily Rossiiskaya Gazeta.
Russia currently has a moratorium on the death penalty.
Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Kozak told Putin on March 18 that the Kerch-Simferopol project had been hit with delays due to a “dishonest project designer,” TASS reported.
Moscow-installed Crimean leader Sergei Aksyonov, meanwhile, told the Russian president that the contractor had not been paid but is seeking 280 million rubles ($4.1 million) in compensation via the courts.
Aksyonov gave reassurances that, going forward, the project would be led by a new contractor “well known in the country” and built by “one of the leaders in this industry,” TASS reported.
Putin could likely help out in bringing in the new help. His friend and former judo sparring partner, after all, is construction magnate Arkady Rotenberg, whose companies secured $7.4 billion in contracts for the 2014 Winter Olympics in the Russian resort town of Sochi.
With reporting by Merkhat Sharipzhanov