Beyond the oddness of the pro-Putin clothing-rippers is a hint of something more sinister.
They call themselves “Putin’s Army”. They are young, female, and urging others to “rip for Putin” – rip off some of their clothing, that is.
A remarkable bit of video propaganda starring these cleavage-baring footsoldiers has been circulating furiously around Russia, and beyond. Some see it as the handiwork of Nashi, a frankly rather scary Kremlin-supported youth group devoted to exalting Vladimir Putin and demonising (harassing, too) his enemies.
The new campaign can only boost speculation that Putin, now prime minister, will stand again for the presidency in March next year – in doing so moving the centre of power back to that post.
“I'm just crazy about the man who changed our country,” enthuses the young star of the video, according to a translation at GlobalVoices.com. “He is a great politician and an amazing man. He is Vladimir Putin. And although there are millions who admire him, there are some who pour dirt on him, perhaps because they are scared of him or because they themselves are weak and will never be able to take his place.”
A blog for Putin’s Army puts it like this:
We will show that many beautiful and smart young women support Mr Putin! We all share the opinion that Putin is a decent and honest politician, as well as an AMAZING man!
Objective: “Putin - President!”
We accept only young women without complexes! Our campaigns will be roaring across all Russia! Each participant will become an Internet star! Are you ready to show everyone how cool YOU are and how great is YOUR president? Join PUTIN’S ARMY!!!
As a post at Radio Free Europe reminds us, it all suits the careful efforts to project the image of a desirable leader. Tom Balmforth writes:
Vladimir Putin is no stranger to offbeat forms of public veneration. His image adorns T-shirts. Billboards in Moscow and online comic strips have portrayed him as a James Bond-like action hero. And a cult in Siberia worships him as the reincarnation of St Paul ...
Putin has cultivated the image of a hard man through a myriad of highly choreographed feats of manliness, including sedating a polar bear and burning rubber at a race track behind the wheel of a Formula One race car.
Why “rip for Putin”? Clearly there is the salacious idea of tearing ripping off clothing, but the phrase rip for in Russian has another, more sinister meaning. According to an analysis in the Moscow Times, it also suggests a threat along the lines of “I’ll rip your head off”.
“The Sexy Soldier in Putin’s Army rips her T-shirt in a (possibly ironic) gesture of threat,” writes Michele A Berdy, “describing what she’s doing and (possibly) promising to beat the daylights out of anyone who insults her idol or (possibly) swearing to do anything to see him win his (possible) electoral campaign.”