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Video: Putin’s Common Touch on the Highway

Here’s a “news story” that was shown on one of Russia’s official Kremlin-owned and -controlled television channels during Vladimir Putin’s recent motoring holiday across one of the few parts of Siberia where there are actually passable roads. The person who posted this segment to YouTube has given it the title “Reality show – Putinomobile”. While a cameraman and a soundman crowd into the back of the compact car, Putin patiently explains all kinds of manly things about automobiles to a giggly “gal reporter”. For example, that his Lada Kalina is an ordinary stock model straight off the assembly line without any modifications (except for all the miniature TV cameras of course), and that it really hugs the road well, which, according to the knowledgeable prime minister, is a good thing.

Astute viewers may notice that there are no other cars on the road during the entire segment. To see why, watch this clip here (unfortunately I cannot embed).

This is an amateur video shot by a bunch of ordinary guys who decided to come out to the highway to watch their national leader drive by – probably the most exciting thing to happen in these parts in ages. The first thing you notice is how far away from the road they’ve been forced to stand. “Don’t wave”, one of them warns. “Yeah, let him wave himself” adds another.

The first vehicle to zip by is a police car, making sure the road ahead is clear. No doubt numerous other security vehicles had swept by even earlier to force all cars unfortunate enough to be on the highway at the time to leave the right of way immediately, while any crossroads along the way were being blocked by local policemen for some 15 minutes before and after the motorcade passes – this is the norm whenever Russia’s most beloved citizen is on the road.

Several hundred meters after the police car comes the main motorcade – an SUV bristling with security men in the lead, another one with flashing lights immediately in front of the yellow Lada, and another one immediately in back. But note that the Lada is travelling in the opposite lane! (proof that the road has been completely cleared for many kilometers ahead). Following behind at a respectable distance is a mini-van with tinted windows, what looks like a large white recreational vehicle but is probably something much more sinister, and another SUV. Pretty large motorcade, don’t you think?

But wait, there’s more! Another dark SUV, another dark minivan, a silver SUV, and… another yellow Lada – also driving on the wrong side of the road! So which one is VVP in? This is a flashback to the days of Russia’s greatest-ever leader, Josef Stalin, who felt so beloved by the people that he would have several identical black limousines with drawn curtains speed out of the Kremlin simultaneously in different directions whenever he had to go someplace – and he was in a different one every time. The Siberians watching the spectacle start to laugh, saying “It’s a spare car!” (they know how reliable Ladas are…).

Okay, back to the motorcade. Following the Lada is an empty minibus, another dark SUV, and a police car. The spectators are convinced this is the end of the parade, and the cameraman begins filming his buddies as they discuss whether it really was VVP behind the wheel or not.

At last some cars are even seen driving in the opposite direction. And then, much to the spectators’ amazement and amusement, there comes a second motorcade, with another police car leading the way, lights flashing. The cars going in the other direction screech to a halt by the side of the road. Was the entire first motorcade a decoy?

One dark SUV. A second one. A third one. One of the spectators lets out an unprintable exclamation of awe. A white minibus. A second one. “This is all our money they’re spending on this!”, comments a spectator in disgust. A third minibus. A fourth one! “Hey, they’re waving at us!” This is obviously not the humorless security detail, but most likely the supporting cast of reporters, each of whom will eventually get their turn to sit in the Lada with the great helmsman. Then “Even an ambulance!”. No, actually, two ambulances, and finally a police car. The guys try to guess why the motorcade had to be so huge: “It’s for clothing.” “Clothing? No, food.”

“What’s this?”, someone interrupts. It seems this still isn’t the end of the show! A police car up front as usual, a whole tour bus with the words “Five Stars” emblazoned on the side, and… “Whoa! There’s a third one coming!”, someone shouts. The gang roars in laughter – a third yellow Lada is being carried on a flatbed truck. “It broke down!” Flashing police car right behind to protect the precious cargo, and a final sweeper police car in the rear. This must be the end already, right?

Wrong! As the cameraman once again turns his lens at his buddies, they suddenly start to point back down the road. Another “Five Stars” tour bus (no police escort in front – these must be very unimportant people already), another police car, and then, finally, all the regular traffic. Yes, Russia, this is all your money they’re spending on this.