TELFS, Austria — Vladimir Putin was not in the room as Group of Seven leaders gathered in the Bavarian Alps. But the Russian president remained very much on the leaders’ minds — even during a discussion of proper attire for a group photo.
“Jackets on? Jackets off? Shall we take our clothes off?” Prime Minister Boris Johnson asked, ostensibly wondering how the leaders should dress for an unofficial photo before their lunch meeting began.
“We all have to show that we’re tougher than Putin,” the British leader joked at the summit site in Schloss Elmau, Germany.
Putin was booted from the group in 2014 after Russia invaded and annexed Ukraine’s Crimea region.
“We’re going to get the bare-chested horseback riding display,” quipped Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, referring to the Russian president’s predilection for distributing photos of himself outdoors — sometimes shirtless, including on horseback.
“There you go! There you go! We’ve got to show them our pecs!” Johnson added.
From arm-wrestling to martial arts, Putin’s hobbies have sought to present physical strength and power central to his personal brand.
Over the years, the Russian leader has frequently been photographed posing with his torso on full display, fodder for an array of online memes.
One photo shoot in 2009 featured a shirtless Putin riding a horse in the mountains. In 2018, more outdoorsy themed shots emerged, showing Putin, stripped to his waist and fishing in a Siberian lake. There were photos of Putin the swimmer and Putin the sunbather.
When asked by a reporter in 2018 about his penchant for “half naked” photos, Putin defended the collection of photographs.
“When I am on vacation I see no need to hide behind the bushes, and there is nothing wrong with that,” Putin told an Australian journalist.
As the Putin commentary continued, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen made a stab at diplomacy Sunday, shifting the conversation from teasing the Russian leader to an enthusiastic endorsement of equestrianism.
“Ah, yes,” she said. “Horseback riding is the best, though!”
President Biden — who had remained silent during the repartee — finally, at the urging of his fellow leaders, swiveled his chair around and smiled for the photo.
Biden opted for jackets on.