Vladimir Putin plunges into icy lake to celebrate Epiphany

Long-time leader seeking re-election in March

Jon Sharman
,Oliver Carroll@olliecarroll
Friday 19 January 2018 13:24
Putin bathes topless in icy lake at Orthodox monastery

Russian President Vladimir Putin has taken a dip in icy lake waters to celebrate Epiphany, a major holiday in Orthodox Christianity marking the baptism of Jesus.

State television stations showed the 65-year-old leader approaching a hole cut in the ice on Lake Seliger in western Russia and then stepping in, before crossing himself.

Mr Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said the President had performed similar ablutions on the Epiphany previously but that Friday marked the first time he had done so publicly.

In Orthodox tradition, water blessed by a priest during Epiphany week is considered holy and pure, and believers attribute healing powers to it.

Authorities set up bathing sites for believers all over Russia, including some areas in Siberia where temperatures fell below -30C (-22F).

Mr Putin grew up under communist rule, when open shows of religion were frowned upon. As president, he has become a frequent attender of Russian Orthodox ceremonies, and has given the Church a major voice in society.

He is seeking re-election in Russia’s presidential election in March. Stunts like Friday’s show the leader in full election campaign mode – not that he is in any great danger of losing.

The latest official voting intention figures give Mr Putin, who is running as an independent, around 70 per cent. Even if such polls are skewed in his favour, he is confident of a comfortable victory in March.

It is also not the first time the President has arranged for a photo opportunity to show off his physique, and over the years he has appeared riding horses, fishing, swimming in lakes and practising judo.

These sorts of displays may seem bizarre or even farcical to western audiences, but in Russia they play well to the long-time leader’s core constituency and strongman image.

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