Bare-chested horseback riding, flying a fighter jet, operating a submarine – Russian President Vladimir Putin's obsession with his strongman image has been such a prominent part of his rule that there's a dedicated Wikipedia article on the topic.
But behind all the publicity stunts to portray himself as an ultra-macho tough guy, just how tall is the Russian president?
Average, according to most sources.
Putin's Cult of Personality
To understand why Putin's height deserves an article of its own, one has to understand the significance of Putin's cult of personality in cementing his rule.
Putin has been cultivating an outdoorsy tough guy image since the early 2000s, with the (in)famous shirtless hunting photoshoot making the news as early as 2007. Over the years, there have been a number of publicity stunts that showed a seemingly daunting side of the Kremlin leader, which portrayed him as a caring hero who led Russia out of the chaos that plagued the nation throughout much of the 1990s.
Traditionally, the cult of personality has been utilized by the likes of Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin to legitimize their rule, cementing support from the population even when the leader's decisions countered their own interests. The idea could be summarized simply: "He is a great man, so what he's doing must be right."
In an article published in 2011, journalist Evgeny Kiselyov described Putin's cult of personality as follows:
"Putin has built a powerful cult of personality thanks to state television, which endlessly portrays him in a favorable light under all circumstances."
The depiction of him as a strong, conservative leader also aligns with how the Kremlin tries to portray itself to the Western world. It also plays a pivotal role in the Kremlin’s attempts to garner support from Western conservatives, as seen in a somewhat bizarre tourism video published following the invasion of Ukraine.
Move to Russia for the ‘hospitality, vodka, economy that can withstand thousands of sanctions’ — The Russian embassy in Spain shared this bizarre video on their verified Twitter account to invite people to move to the country pic.twitter.com/7WSao6GZwh— NowThis Impact (@nowthisimpact) August 6, 2022
However, even the best publicity stunts cannot alter reality – or in this case, Putin's average height.
A Guardian article published in 2011 said Putin stands at 170 cm (5ft 7in).
However, there were conflicting accounts from different sources as to his real height, with an article published in 2015 estimating him to be as short as 157 cm (5ft 2in).
The article also reported an alleged incident where female guests wore high heels and towered over the Kremlin leader, which reportedly left him "red-faced." It also cited alleged comments from a Kremlin insider that “no one can be taller” than the president himself in official photo shoots, “to avoid causing embarrassment in pictures and video.”
An article in The Times described another incident in which Putin was spotted wearing heightened shoes alongside a group of university students who were inches taller than him, which led to further speculation about his real height.
Putin’s average height was also apparent when he stood next to other world leaders.
In his memoir, former US President Barack Obama, who stood at 187 cm (6ft 1in), described the Kremlin leader's stature as “unremarkable.”
“Physically, he was unremarkable,” said Obama.
Compared to his Belarusian counterpart – whose leadership is subjected to Moscow's control – the Kremlin leader also appeared small in physique, with Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko towering at 182 cm (5ft 11in) over him whenever they were seen together.
Mark van Vugt, a professor of evolutionary psychology at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, believed the Kremlin leader to have a “Napoleon complex” – a form of overcompensation for being physically small or short, as referenced in the Times article. As such, this might explain his strongman rule to be a way to compensate for his smaller stature.
In fact, multiple figures have commented on Putin's height when criticizing his actions.
Ihor Kolomoisky, a Ukrainian oligarch, once described Putin as a “schizophrenic of short stature.”
Julian Lewis, a British conservative politician, told the House of Commons that Putin was “firmly in the grip of small-man syndrome.” Former UK Defense Minister Ben Wallace described the leader as a “lunatic” with “small man syndrome.”
While it might not be appropriate to reference a persona’s height when criticizing their actions, Putin's shorter stature, in comparison with some political leaders, might have lent a slight contribution to the shaping of his public image, and in turn, the portrayal of Russia to the outside world.
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