Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

The President With a Golden Gun

Years after President Vladimir Putin hung up his Cold War suit as an agent in the KGB, a new novel has propelled the president back into action as a Russian James Bond battling Chechen rebels.

Latvian author Alexander Olbik is creating waves by making Putin the hero in his latest thriller, "President." The novel follows Putin from the Kremlin to Chechnya on a hunt to kill rebel leaders.

The book cover shows Putin looking through a black special forces balaclava with the Russian flag imposed over it.

The book, aimed at the domestic market but published in Ukraine, is being criticized in some circles in Moscow. Some say it is part of a growing Putin personality cult that has seen his likeness appear on everything from T-shirts to Easter eggs, while others accuse the Kremlin of commissioning the book.

Olbik vehemently denies that the book was commissioned. "I believe in him and wanted to write about him," Olbik said by telephone from Riga.

He said Kremlin officials had even asked him not to use Putin's name after he wrote to them about the book. They offered to meet him to discuss the issue, but the meeting never took place.

A Kremlin spokesman said he knew nothing about the book.

Olbik, a former journalist who prides himself for being the first to interview Boris Yeltsin after he was thrown out of the Communist Party's Central Committee in the late 1980s, said "President" was printed in Ukraine because local publishers had demanded that the book's hero be renamed. "They told me to change the name, but if you do that you change the whole book," he said. "If I had named him Petrov or Ivanov, nobody would read it.

"You could change the name to Yeltsin, but I can't see Yeltsin going into the mountains and fighting," he said.

He said the plot was inspired by the Kursk submarine disaster in August 2000 when Putin chose to remain on vacation in Sochi rather than return to Moscow. The book explains that Putin stayed in the Black Sea town because he was recovering from wounds sustained in a battle with a Chechen rebel leader named Shamil, a clear reference to Shamil Basayev, whom the Federal Security Service claimed to have killed earlier this year.

In the book, Putin dons his 007 guise after receiving taunting a letter from Shamil. "Putin, it is me you want to catch. Be a man. Try to do it with your own hands, and then we will see whose side Allah is on,"' Shamil writes in ungrammatical Russian.

Olbik's Putin reacts like any normal, red-blooded leader of a G-8 country by getting in shape to take out the rebel.

After a fierce battle with the rebels deep in the mountains of Chechnya, a merciful Putin at first helps Shamil by injecting a painkiller.

But later, Shamil ambushes Putin and declares: "I will now tear apart your skull and shoot every neuron. ... You will die a thousand times for a thousand years and not die, and even that is too good for you."

Even though badly wounded, Putin is not ready to die. He knocks Shamil to the ground and sinks his teeth into his throat. "'It seems I have the grip of a bulldog,' was the sick thought that came into [Putin's] head, and he squeezed his teeth tighter. He savaged the vein until his tongue and palate could taste the salty blood, which was thick like oil."

In between killing Chechens, Putin reads Roman stoic poet Seneca and is doted on by his wife, Lyudmila, who serves up borshch.

Although Putin's adventures show he can match the likes of James Bond, Olbik insisted that his aim was not to glorify Putin.

"He's no Rambo, he's no hero," Olbik said. "He's just a ordinary fighter. I don't make him a hero."