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Putin’s Helsinki showmanship starts with his limo

Motorcyclists escort President Vladimir Putin's news Russian-made limousine, part of the Kortezh project, during an inauguration ceremony at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia May 7, 2018. Sputnik/Vitaly Belousov/Pool via REUTERS

HELSINKI — Russian President Vladimir Putin landed in Helsinki almost an hour late, tossed off his jacket while still on the tarmac and climbed into a new Russian-made limousine on its first foreign tour.

Those were the first moments of Putin’s arrival for his much-anticipated summit meeting with Trump — and they underscored his honed ability to maximize the power of the image and the drama of high-profile, made-for-TV political events.

As he has done with many other foreign leaders, Putin kept Trump waiting, landing about an hour after his scheduled arrival time. The automobile that then whizzed Putin through Helsinki’s blocked-off streets also symbolized the rising global prestige that Putin has cast himself as bestowing upon Russia.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and President Trump arrived at the Presidential Palace in Helsinki early afternoon on July 16 for their one-on-one summit. (Video: The Washington Post)

The car, part of a state vehicle-manufacturing initiative called Kortezh — the Russian word for “motorcade” — rivals the U.S. president’s “Beast” limo in its imposing aura. It’s nearly 22 feet long and five-and-a-half feet tall. Putin took a ride in it from one building inside the Kremlin to another on his inauguration day in May. It replaces the stretch Mercedes that long ferried Putin around.

“This is the first high-end luxury car manufactured domestically in many years,” says a Russian state media webpage about the Kortezh, in a nod to the old Cold War days in which Soviet-made Zil limousines ferried Communist leaders around. (To be sure, the Kortezh engine was developed in conjunction with Germany’s Porsche.)

Finns had spotted the cars in Helsinki in recent days, but the Kremlin even turned the question of whether Putin would ride in one of them into a mystery.

“What car will Vladimir Vladimirovich [Putin] use to move around Helsinki?” an interviewer for pro-Kremlin broadcaster RT asked Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov in an interview published Monday.

“You’ll see,” Peskov responded.

The tension broke when, just before Putin stepped off the plane, journalists noted not just one but multiple Kortezh cars awaiting the president's delegation. Vladimir Solovyov, one of the country's most prominent pro-Kremlin talk show hosts, later posted a question on Twitter: “Interesting — will Trump, after meeting with Putin, order himself a Kortezh limousine?”

He added a winking emoji.

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