Russian President Vladimir Putin is know for his bizarre photos ops.
In the West these seems crazy.
They're the type of things we turn into Internet memes. They make great animated gifs.
There are entire Tumblrs devoted just to photos of "Shirtless Putin Doin' Things"
Action figures, showing him riding bears and doing other crazy things.
But where we in the U.S. and other countries see this as the crazy antics of an ego maniac,
in Russia they actually have a very important political purpose.
That's an image that looks like it should be airbrushed onto the side of a van in New Jersey rest area.
So, in Russia, Putin's image is crafted very carefully to make him seem like a public figure that is both powerful and lovable.
So that is what it says when Putin is kind of interacting with animals or children.
But he also is very careful in these photos to stage them so that he's powerful:
He's riding the horse, kind of surveying the land around him.
Often they show him as if he's stepped into someone else's profession for a day and had incredible success in it.
On one occasion he appeared as a dentist.
He famously had this photo op in the Black Sea where he was shown emerging from the water,
carrying two ancient Greek amphorae which are these incredible archeological finds.
And the initial story was that he had just happened to be swimming and discovered them.
But it quickly came out that in fact they had been planted there for him to discover.
So the message from all of these is that he is this incredibly impressive individual.
But it also has a more simple and direct message,
which is: Don't worry, Russia. Putin is healthy and everything is going to be fine.
But the truth is that power in Russia is centralized with Putin to an incredible degree.
There is no clear successor in place. It's not at all clear what the government would look like without him.
And that makes it pretty scary for people to contemplate what would happen if Putin were suddenly to become seriously ill.
They also reassure Russians that Putin is healthy and strong.
He is trying to live up to this Russian ideal of the "real man"
the person who is strong and macho and impressive and powerful.
A lot of these photos are also designed to show how impressive Russia is.
When he's hunting that is a reminder of its wealth of wildlife and natural resoures.
No one is as popular as Putin. No one is as recognizable. There isn't anyone that has that populist appeal.
And when he shows that he has these high levels of popularity, that's how he shows the elites, you know, "I got this. You don't need to worry that the country is going to slip from my grasp."
And it's also a way of reminding them that there is no one other than Putin.
There is no other figure in Russia who has the same level of elite support and also popular support.
These photos might seem weird and crazy to us.
But they also tell us a lot about Putin's political strategy and where he stands, both with the Russian public and with Russian elites.