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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Cabinet Waits as Putin Rides on Sub




Is it a plane? Is it a submarine? No, it's just the president-elect fulfilling a childhood dream.


Vladimir Putin spent the night on the Delta-class nuclear submarine Karelia, 400 meters beneath choppy Arctic waves and then watched missile-firing exercises Thursday from a Northern Fleet naval cruiser.


In Moscow, the weekly Cabinet meeting was canceled. Itar-Tass quoted the head of the government's information department, Andrei Korotkov, as saying energy issues on the agenda were "too important for the economy ... to be examined without the head of the government and key ministers."


Putin returned to the capital later for a meeting with acting International Monetary Fund head Stanley Fischer. The IMF delegation beat Putin to the Kremlin and was waiting there for his return from the airport, a Kremlin spokeswoman said.


Also due to arrive in Moscow was a delegation from the European Union - including the most senior Western officials to come to Russia since Putin's election.


Adventures like the submarine ride have become something of a tradition for Putin.


Last month, not long before his election win, he flew to Chechnya aboard a two-person Sukhoi-27 fighter jet.


Putin was separated from the "suitcase" controlling the nuclear arsenal when aboard the fighter, and it was not clear whether it could have worked from a submerged submarine. But the acting president seems unperturbed.


"As commander in chief, I want to see everything myself, touch it and feel what it's like," Putin told reporters when asked to explain his military-minded stunts.


He also confided he had long dreamed of a submarine ride. In a book published last month, Putin said he toyed with the idea of being a pilot as a child but went for the KGB instead.


Putin began his image-building activities when Boris Yeltsin resigned Dec. 31. But in the weeks leading up to the presidential elections he insisted he was only fulfilling his duties as acting president - not campaigning.


His first trip as acting president, just hours after Yeltsin quit, was to hand out hunting knives to soldiers in Chechnya, where he launched a vote-winning war to quell separatist rebels.


The 47-year-old former KGB spy had already demonstrated his unarmed combat skills on the judo mat. Later, he took a more proletarian ride on a commuter train and drove a modest Russian-made car off the assembly line.


"Putin's everywhere," enthused RIA news agency. "First as prime minister and then as acting president as well, Vladimir Putin has mastered practically all modes of transport, and above all, military vehicles."


Now comfortably elected, Putin, with his trademark bashful smile, seemingly has less need for such imagery.


But with the ceremonial hurdle of a May 7 inauguration still to clear, it is a tactic that usefully keeps him in the public eye and in favor with the military until he can act with the full weight of the presidency.


Putin has proved highly popular with the armed forces. Indeed, there was a tussle over which submarine would take him overnight. He opted for the Karelia, where he was accompanied by Defense Minister Igor Sergeyev and the navy's top commander, Admiral Vladimir Kuroyedov.


Bobbing in choppy seas, they watched as the nearby submarine Borisoglebsk fired a ballistic missile, which hit its target on the Kamchatka Peninsula in the Far East, Itar-Tass reported.


Television footage from the exercises showed naval vessels rocking in windy weather under gray clouds, and then Putin returning to a dock were he was offered roast suckling pig, a Russian navy tradition for returning submarine crews, reports said.


What Putin's next stint will be is anybody's guess. But there do appear to be some limits.


Asked recently at the Star City cosmonaut training school outside Moscow whether he would not like to go into space, he replied: "I know full well how expensive it is to put each gram of cargo into orbit. I think my weight is not worth the money."