MOSCOW (WASHINGTON POST) - Russian President Vladimir Putin can add a new skill to his resume: reality TV star.
A new series launched on Sunday (Sept 2) on state television, focusing on the Russian leader's weekly activities. The one-hour show, called "Moscow. Kremlin. Putin," comes as Mr Putin suffers one of his largest dips in popularity for years.
While Mr Putin appears almost daily on state television, a show of this type is uncharted territory for the leader.
Mr Putin is shown speaking to gifted teenagers about the inner workings of diplomacy in the programme and also attending the funeral of beloved crooner Iosif Kobzon, the Russian "Frank Sinatra" who died last week at age 80.
Viewers are also treated to never-seen-before footage of Mr Putin's vacation last month to Siberia. The 65-year-old leader is shown puffing up a mountain with a hiking staff, collecting wild berries in his chest pocket and watching wildlife as he mutters under his breath: "They're not afraid of us."
The show, on the Rossiya 1 channel, comes days before tens of thousands of Russians are expected to protest across the country at the Kremlin's deeply unpopular pension restructuring. Mr Putin succumbed to rare public pressure last week when he partially revised the pension overhaul in an unusual televised address to the nation.
The concession exposed potential cracks in the foundations of Mr Putin's popularity, at a time when Western sanctions, imposed over election interference and the Ukraine crisis, have hit the Russian economy hard.
Mr Putin's approval ratings dropped to 67 per cent in July from 79 per cent in May, according to the independent Levada Centre. Almost 90 per cent of Russians opposed the pension overhaul, the pollster found, and opposition politicians seized on the plan to galvanise their supporters.
On Monday, Mr Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov emphasised that the new show was entirely the creation of the channel, which is controlled by the Kremlin, and that it represented a "balanced" view.
Mr Peskov also sought to calm viewers' fears about Mr Putin's safety in the wild. "Do you think the bear is an idiot? If he sees Putin, of course he's going to mind his manners."
This is not the first time a Russian official has starred in a reality TV show. Two years ago the strongman leader of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov, launched "The Team," a knockoff version of Donald Trump's "The Apprentice."