MOSCOW -- Vladimir Putin is not only very much alive, he is also likely to remain Russia’s president until at least 2024 if, as is widely expected, he wins reelection next year to a fourth term.
But that hasn’t stopped the occasional statue popping up to immortalize the 65-year-old Russian leader and ex-KGB officer.
The latest likeness appeared this week in the form of a bronze, 180-centimeter-tall Putin holding skis at a winter resort in the Urals region of Chelyabinsk.
The statue appeared on November 9 as Putin traveled to the region to attend a Russian-Kazakh cooperation forum where he met Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev.
The Adzhigardak resort where the statue was raised posted photographs of it on Facebook, adding that the official unveiling ceremony will be held on November 25.
The Kremlin has carefully cultivated an image of Putin as an athletic tough guy, with photo ops famously showing the president throwing opponents in the judo ring, tranquilizing a charging tiger, posing shirtless outdoors, and swimming the butterfly stroke in a mountain river, among other things. Beefcakey Putin T-shirts and calendars are sold across the country.
However, the sculpture of Putin appeared to be a local initiative -- and a possible attempt to curry favor with the Kremlin. In the Facebook post, the resort said the statue was a “sign of gratitude for [Putin's] contribution to popularizing ski sports and a healthy lifestyle."
The sculptor was identified as Dmitry Kostylev from Chelyabinsk, who spoke to the Argumenty i Fakty newspaper: “The proposal to make a sculpture of the leader of the country was unexpected," Kostylev said. "It is a real responsibility to depict historic figures. The schedule for the work was tight. There was only 1 1/2 months.”
The statue appeared to get a mixed reception online. While many shared the news on Russia's VK social network, with apparent Putin fan groups writing "respect," one user drolly wrote: "Did Putin die?"
The sculpture is not the first of Vladimir Putin.
In December 2011, Zurab Tsereteli, a sculptor close to former Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov and whose works dot the Russian capital, unveiled a sculpture of Putin in a judo kimono with his arms akimbo.
In 2015, a group of Cossacks unveiled a bust of Putin depicting him as a Roman emperor. The bust was located about 20 kilometers from St. Petersburg on territory belonging to the Cossacks.