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You're reading: Macho image fades as Russia’s Putin nears 60
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Back in the Kremlin since May, the former KGB spy faces the
biggest protests of his long rule and ratings that an independent pollster says
have slipped below 50 percent. His image, says a former Kremlin spin-doctor,
may need rebranding.

Vote-winning antics such as horse-riding bare-chested, or
shooting a tiger with a tranquiliser dart now open him to ridicule reminiscent
of that directed at Boris Yeltsin, the vodka-swilling leader he replaced 12
years ago.

Putin has long cultivated a sober and vigorous image in contrast
with Yeltsin. His spokesman said he was paying little attention to his birthday
on Oct. 7 because of his passion for his job.

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