Monday, the fourth anniversary of the Beslan school hostage crisis, Russian
Prime Minister Vladimir Putin sedated a Siberian tiger to save--or so legend
has it--a state television crew.
As survivors of the Beslan tragedy gathered at the graveyard outside the North Ossetian town to mourn the more than 330 victims--mostly children--killed in the massacre, Putin was roaming the wilderness of Russia's far east. Roaming it with television cameras and a tranquilizer gun.
"Vladimir Putin not only managed to see the giant predator up close but also saved our television crew," a presenter on the state television channel Rossiya said of the leader's feat at the start of the Monday evening news.
Putin was reportedly visiting a national park to observe researchers' monitoring of Siberian tigers when he was said to have saved the day. He is shown on camera threading through a luscious forest in camouflage gear; then, a moment later, he is seen measuring a sedated tiger and placing a monitoring transmitter around its neck. Russian and international media reported that wildlife researchers had taken the prime minister to see a trapped Amur tiger--the world's biggest--but that the animal suddenly broke loose and stormed toward the Rossiya camera crew. Putin was there to save the day, quickly shooting the tiger with a tranquilizer, and saving the crew.
This appears to be yet another stunt that shapes Putin's strong, masculine image--in the past few years he has been photographed swimming with dolphins, fishing shirtless, and practicing judo. But instead of cultivating that image, the former president (now prime minister) needs to focus on protecting Russia's journalists from attackers of a different species.
In the past three days, two journalists have been murdered and a third one severely beaten in the restive Russian North Caucasus region. Magomed Yevloyev, the owner of the critical news Web site Ingushetiya, was shot and killed by Ingush police on Sunday, after enduring a barrage of harassment and intimidation in retaliation for his work. Telman Alishayev, a Dagestan television host, died in the hospital this morning after assassins shot him in the head and shoulder on Tuesday. And Miloslav Bitokov, editor of the independent weekly Gazeta Yuga is currently hospitalized with a concussion in a Kabardino-Balkariya hospital after three attackers severely beat him in the entrance of his home in the city of Nalchik.
If he truly wants to bolster his image, the prime minister should take the lead in mobilizing all resources under his considerable authority to find, prosecute, and bring to justice the killers of Magomed and Telman, and whoever attacked Miloslav.