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Putin Pumps Iron, Internet Delivers Punch Lines

Russian President Vladimir Putin (left) and Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev drink tea during breakfast at the Bocharov Ruchei state residence in Sochi on August 30.
Russian President Vladimir Putin (left) and Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev drink tea during breakfast at the Bocharov Ruchei state residence in Sochi on August 30.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev spent their Sunday on a thoroughly photographed man-date -- pumping iron, barbecuing, and drinking tea.

Putin and Medvedev met at the president's Sochi residence on August 30, and after a quick warm-up got to the workout machines.

The president and prime minister sported tracksuits, T-shirts, and sneakers -- with Medvedev donning a pair of trendy Nike shoes and Putin the more patriotic Russian-made Forward sneakers.

After the workout the Russian leaders barbecued and shared a cup of steamy tea -- all of which was covered by the state-run network RT.

The bizarre public get-together was interpreted by some media organizations as an attempt to boost Putin's approval rating. According to Levada Center, an independent Russian polling agency, Putin's approval rating fell from an all-time high of 89 percent in June to 83 percent in August.

Whatever the official goal might have been, the photo shoot sparked a wave of Internet memes.

Some Twitter users experimented with captioning an image of Putin working out his upper body. This one suggests it's a still from an imaginary sequel to 50 Shades Of Grey, the well-known erotic drama.

With minor retouching, Putin becomes a character from Mortal Kombat -- a violent videogame series that originated in the 1990s.

A few more strokes in Photoshop and the Russian president becomes the Vitruvian Putin -- based on the Vitruvian Man, a classic drawing by Leonardo da Vinci.

Others were openly critical of Putin and Medvedev. While the president and prime minister were hanging out in the resort city of Sochi, Siberia was being scorched by dozens of wildfires. One encroached on the shores of Lake Baikal, the largest freshwater lake in the world.

"Instead of flying to Siberia to manage firefighting, they are barbequing. Tell them that all of Buryatia is a barbeque," reads one tweet.

A caption to the photo of the Russian leaders smiling amicably at each other reads: "Don't worry, Baikal won't burn down! It's a lake after all!"

At the same time Ukrainian Twitter users pointed to the ongoing battles in Donbas between the Ukrainian military and Russian proxies. Here the pair is Photoshopped into an image of the destroyed Donetsk airport:

Another Twitter user evoked a story shown on Russian state television about a small boy supposedly crucified by the Ukrainian military in eastern Ukraine -- a fake that was heavily mocked online as a propaganda stunt.

This photo of Putin, too, is called "Crucified boy."

The ongoing theme of Russian sanctions and goods destruction is also not going anywhere. In this Facebook post, for instance, Putin and Medvedev are seen drinking their tea atop a pile of destroyed Western cheese.

Others imagined what their equipment would look like if the officials decided to substitute their American and German workout machines with something made in Russia:

And just so you know, not everybody's tea-drinking sessions in Russia feature proper cups and a teapot. For instance, this post offers a reminder that residents of the Russian city of Stavropol were once served traditional pancakes on shovel-blades to mark Maslenitsa, Russia's version of Mardi Gras.

In the end, the manly weekend workout session was summarized with this caricature, in which Putin is seen holding Medvedev over the ledge of a cliff.

About This Blog

Written by RFE/RL editors and correspondents, Transmission serves up news, comment, and the odd silly dictator story. While our primary concern is with foreign policy, Transmission is also a place for the ideas -- some serious, some irreverent -- that bubble up from our bureaus. The name recognizes RFE/RL's role as a surrogate broadcaster to places without free media. You can write us at

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