The Kremlin-approved Putin calendar is a popular novelty item, and the international statesman flare to the 2020 iteration marks a departure from previous years.
For the 2019 calendar, Putin was photographed playing hockey, fishing shirtless in Siberia and petting animals. The intention was for him to come off as a fit outdoorsman, strong but relatable.
The calendars are a small part of a broader state-sponsored image-making campaign by the Kremlin, and the latest one presents Putin as not just a leader of Russians but also a policy-shaper for the world with an increasingly aggressive foreign policy.
“I think it’s been a recurrent theme in sort of the Russian narrative — that Russia is a major power, that it’s one of the global centers of power,” said Eugene Rumer, director of the Russia and Eurasia program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
Putin is shown out of his suit and in nature in just one 2020 month, when he’s examining a small plant in the forest for August.
Photos of Putin alongside French President Emmanuel Macron, Trump and Merkel, who just partnered with Putin on a lucrative business deal with the Nord Stream 2 natural-gas pipeline, adorn the February and September months.
November features Mohammed, who has visited Russia four times since June 2015 before welcoming Putin to Riyadh last month. Russia has pushed for Saudi Arabia to purchase its S-400 missile defense system, and the two countries coordinate their activities in the world oil market. Meanwhile, Egypt signed a $2 billion agreement with Russia earlier this year to buy more than 20 Su-35 fighter jets, an arrangement the United States is trying to stop.
Putin then extended Russia’s influence in the Middle East last month by mediating Turkey’s military offensive into northern Syria, reaching an agreement with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan for a full cease-fire.
Turkey and Russia now jointly control a wide swath of territory just south of Turkey’s border, formerly held by Syrian Kurdish fighters allied with the United States. Most important for Putin was that it strengthened Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, a key ally, by allowing him to regain control over more Syrian territory. (Erdogan and Assad, though, did not make the 2020 Putin calendar sets.)
There are six different state-approved Putin wall calendars, as well as a desktop version, with slight variations. One of the calendars is devoted to just photos of Putin with animals. The second and third editions include photos of Putin with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
Russia “has succeeded in inserting itself in a number of situations that are important to other major powers and they have no choice but to talk to Russia,” Rumer said. “The Middle East is one where Russia has become an important actor.”
The day after his agreement with Turkey, Putin was host of the first Russia-Africa summit, a splashy two-day event attended by leaders of 43 of Africa’s 54 countries. Kremlin-linked mercenaries are thought to be fighting in Libya’s civil war and working on behalf of renegade Libyan commander Khalifa Hifter as Moscow tries to extend its influence to Tripoli.
“They send a very clear message to some governments that are authoritarian that we’re prepared to look the other way and we’re not bothered by your transgressions, whereas the United States and Europe tend to criticize you for your democracy deficit,” Rumer said. “The Russians don’t seem to be bothered by that at all.”
Emphasizing Putin’s international persona is a safe bet for the Kremlin. Putin’s foreign policy efforts are widely popular with Russians — even as he has lost some ground domestically in a country plagued by income inequality and an economy that has suffered from Western sanctions.
But, fittingly, the calendars seem to be even more popular abroad. SoraNews24, a Japanese media outlet, reported in December that 2019 Putin calendars were initially outselling those of Japanese celebrities in Japanese stores.