The workout photos showed up all over the web. Tweets from decadent Westerners imputed gayness and a need for vegetables with those steaks, summed up here.
There may be more to this, though. Russians are not as into irony as Westerners and are likely to read this as two manly men working out, reinforced by the blonde boxer. It’s a move by Putin to firm up his popular support, which has been decreasing by a little. It’s not a panic move, more like preventive maintenance.
On the other hand, Dmitry Medvedev is clearly is not as strong as Putin, who looks on as he and taps him patronizingly on the butt. He is shown as second, but also as second in command. Putin in charge, with Medvedev by his side. It’s almost like 2011. Is Putin planning to switch roles again? Brian Whitmore has a few more possibilities.
Another message is that they are living well and are happy despite the sanctions related to Russia’s intervention in Ukraine. However, Putin’s desire to be taken seriously by the West shows up in his covered chest and indoors location, with exercise machines in place of wild animals. He’s planning on attending the United Nations General Assembly meeting in New York later this month, so the image needs to be strong but civilized.
There continues to be much that Putin doesn’t understand about the West. If he intended to send a message about his strength to the West, he completely missed the possibility for jokes about his gender orientation.
Overinterpretation? Perhaps. But heads of state do not invite the press corps to their workout sessions without having a message in mind. It probably isn’t a big deal, but stay alert for other signs that Putin thinks he needs to shore up his image. Or the appearance of, say, Sergei Lavrov in place of Dmitry Medvedev.
Update (September 3, 2015): Here’s another interpretation. Not sure I agree.by