Russian state television introduces weekly show in praise of Vladimir Putin

A weekly show glorifying Vladimir Putin’s political acumen, physical fitness and love of children has made its debut on Russian state television, raising concerns of a Stalinesque “personality cult”.

The hour-long show, titled “Moscow. Kremlin. Putin.,” comes after the president’s popularity took a hit over an widely loathed plan to raise the pension age.

Hosted by Vladimir Soloviev, a TV and radio personality who previously authored documentary films and books about Mr Putin, the first broadcast began with footage of the leader hiking on a holiday in Siberia, meeting with schoolchildren and paying respects to a well-known singer who died last week.

“Putin doesn’t just love children, he loves people. He’s a very humane human,” the Kremlin spokesman told Mr Soloviev, echoing a famous quote calling Vladimir Lenin the “most humane human”.

The show claimed that Mr Putin had travelled more than 5,000 miles across Russia for work in the past week, wondering how he “keeps up with such a marathon”.

It later answered its own question with a segment on the president’s five-mile hike in mountainous Siberia and details of his daily swimming and weight-lifting routines. The programme also recycled old PR stunts such as footage of him descending into a nickel mine in Norilsk in 2002.

But the “main topic” of the week, it said, was a televised address in which Mr Putin softened pension reform that has sparked protests. Nearly nine in 10 Russians oppose the plan.

His approval rating tumbled from 79 to 67 per cent after the planned reform was announced, and the communist party rallied some 9,000 demonstrators against the measure in Moscow this weekend.

Opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who was suddenly jailed last week for previous demonstrations, has been calling for a pension protest across Russia this coming Sunday.

In the address, Mr Putin said the retirement age for women would be only be raised five years to 60 rather than to 63. The age for men will still be hiked to 65, however, a year less than their average life expectancy.

Russian state television features fawning coverage of the president nearly every day, and Mr Putin is well-known for shirtless photographs and macho exploits like tranquilising tigers, flying in fighter jets and scoring seven goals in a birthday hockey game.

But “Moscow. Kremlin. Putin.” has taken the adulation to new heights.

An article on the independent news site Znak compared it to the Soviet propaganda that trumpeted the achievements of leaders like Mr Lenin, Joseph Stalin and Leonid Brezhnev.

“This wasn’t surprising, of course, but it should be somehow documented that in September 2018 we’ve returned to the personality cult,” journalist Ilya Barabanov tweeted about the show, which he described as a “stomach balloon” after the inflatable weight-loss device.

Stalin’s infamous personality cult was denounced by his successor Nikita Khrushchev, and later leaders have been wary of emulating it.

The figure of Mr Putin was removed from a statue ensemble just before it was unveiled in the Kurgan region in May, reportedly on orders from the Kremlin.

More laughs at the new show’s expense came when it emerged that one of the kids had worn a Navalny shirt during Mr Putin’s visit with talented schoolchildren, which was not reflected on television but slipped into a photograph published on the Kremlin website.

Although the younger generation tends to get its news from the Internet, television remains the main source of information for a majority of the population.