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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Film Offers Slick Look at President's Life

There are moments, speeding around in his motorcade, when President Vladimir Putin secretly yearns to stop the clock, step out of his car and buy a beer.

But traffic would come to a standstill, so an impromptu beer is a pleasure he can't allow himself.

A slick documentary aired on RTR state television Tuesday seemed designed to show Putin's informal, human side.

"People should know that the guy sitting at the very top may make some mistakes, but he is our guy, he acts in our interests, he won't trick us and won't let us down," says Putin in the film, with his trademark mix of earnestness and vagueness.

Living like a monarch, he says, has its deprivations.

"There is practically no freedom. I cannot go anywhere, I cannot just get out of the car and buy myself a beer," he complains.

The film is an adulatory portrait of the president visiting the sites of tragedies and natural disasters, hugging elderly women, drinking champagne with his old German language teacher and swimming laps of butterfly stroke at the end of a long day — then weighing in at 75 kilograms.

He was so busy last year, he tells the film crew, that he never once bothered to check out the view behind the curtains of his Kremlin window.

Putin was a little-known figure when he was appointed prime minister in 1999. After his predecessor Boris Yeltsin resigned suddenly the following New Year's Eve and named him acting president, the question that immediately arose was, "Who is Putin?"

The Kremlin's public relations machine has answered the question by churning out images of a child-kissing, judo-chopping, plane-hopping action man.

Although the hourlong film, subtitled "Leap Year," is styled as a documentary, all the blunders of Putin's first year are airbrushed out, including his initial failure to break a vacation when the nuclear submarine Kursk sank last summer.

While Putin acknowledges the death of Kursk's 118 crew members as perhaps the lowest point of his year as president, he says the accident was "not directly connected to performing the functions of the head of state" and "not even directly connected to the state of the armed forces." Instead, he blames poor foresight in designing the sub, which had no alternative escape mechanisms.

Amid the footage of Putin's travels is another mournful day for the nation: the burial in March 2000 of eight of the 84 paratroopers killed in a battle in Chechnya. The strong suggestion in the film is that Putin attended the service. In fact, he sent a delegation headed by then-Defense Minister Igor Sergeyev.

The underlying message of the documentary — filmed in early 2000, before Putin was elected, and in May 2001, when he marked the anniversary of his inauguration — is a well-worn Putin theme: the need to push ahead with economic and social change in order to modernize the country, "otherwise it will cease to exist in its present form."

Addressing the nostalgia many elderly people feel for the Soviet era — as well as fears articulated by his critics — Putin warns in the film that it is impossible to return to the past.

"If we try to go backward we will utterly destroy everything," he says. "But we can make people's lives not only as good as they were in the past, but even better. And it is our job to do this."

(LAT, MT)