I cannot recall when I last saw a more pornographic image. The picture is a close-up of Putin holding a fish and kissing it. It was taken during the president's visit to a fish farm in the village of Ikryanoe, near Astrakhan, on the Caspian Sea. He is kissing a sturgeon, the fish that produces the finest caviar. The eye of the fish, visible just below Putin's nostrils, is, it seems, warmer and more tender than Putin's own. Several moments later, he put the sturgeon back into the water, to the applause of the assembled locals and employees.
Putin, like the great masters of self-image management, is here killing several semantic birds with one stone. The sturgeon is a long fish with a pointy head. With the gesture of an experienced porn star, fixing the observer with his chill gaze, Putin is sending an indirect kiss to the gay population: the long, slippery sturgeon in his hands could be a penis, and Putin is kissing the organ at its sensitive tip.
But there is another, strictly heterosexual, interpretation. In the slang of many Slavic languages the word "fish" means woman, or, rather, the female sexual organ. This metaphoric sequence starts from the male assumption that the female sexual organ "smells like a fish". Fearless Putin embraces the smelly fish (though his sensible woollen gloves suggest the fish-kisser prefers safe sex).
The president is also sending the kiss to the subconscious mind of the Russian people, who know their fairy-tales. The main hero of "By the Pike's Wish" is stupid, ugly, lazy Emelya, a fisherman who amasses wealth, a kingdom and a beautiful princess because he releases a pike he had caught. The pike is his powerful helper. All Emelya has to say is: "By the pike's wish, at my command..." and things are resolved instantaneously in his favour. Putin, therefore, is suggesting to his people that they should stay where they are and place their trust in a higher order, because they can be pulled out of deep shit only by the will of God – or fish. Putin himself, like Emelya, is a lucky fellow, and the fish's favourite. One way or the other, the kingdom is his.
Translated by Ellen Elias-Bursac.