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On Putin’s Vacation – Behind The Scenes Material

Alexei Nikolsky/Tass

Hi all! I hope you will check out my latest article for Motherboard. Recently Russian state media released a series of pictures of Vladimir Putin on vacation and there were a ton of pictures of various plants and animals. I thought it was a fun opportunity to talk about natural history and biogeography and how these fields of study could help generate information for United States intelligence agencies! I spoke with a number of experts for the story that were really generous with their time but I was only able to include snippets of their responses in the article; I wanted to include everything here!

Solomon David on fish:

Seems the timing and location (shallow stretch of river as opposed to lake proper in Fall) doesn’t exactly match for Omul (Coregonus migratorius), but it may be Arctic Cisco (Coregonus autumnalis) instead (both coregoninae, a subfamily of the family Salmonidae; Salmonidae includes salmon, trout, grayling, whitefishes); and “Omul” has been used for both species in the past). Both species migrate into streams/rivers to spawn; they are also considered important commercial fisheries in the region (similar to Lake Whitefish and Cisco in the U.S. Great Lakes).

Northern Pike (Esox lucius) and Eurasian Perch (Perca fluviatilis) check out. He’s holding pike by eyes which is an old-school angler way of doing it; definitely not recommended for any fish you intend to release (clearly not case here). I would agree with comments noted in the Denver post article that Northern Pike are usually caught with a pole (as opposed to spearfishing), and “chasing” a fish isn’t the best way to catch one. Eurasian Perch are popular sport fish, and close relatives to the Yellow Perch in North America; the species has been stocked widely.

Overall, no reasons to doubt veracity of claims (on fishes/habitat/timing) that I can see. It’s outside spawning season for all those species. Although they are all cool species, the catches themselves (e.g. the small pike) are nothing I’d write home to the Kremlin about.

Sue Jansen on Russian propaganda:

...We know Putin is deeply attuned to image management (PR), so the body display is purposeful, projecting a very different image than any of his Russian predecessors. These are hardly candid shots, very much posed for the cameras to project hyper-masculinity and physical fitness. 

Alexei Nikolsky/Tass

To some degree it seems like Putin is playing to Western conventions of covering leaders away from the podium where the public usually sees them, i.e., rough and ready Teddy Roosevelt big game hunting, Eisenhower (the first TV president) playing golf, Bush 2 cutting brush on his ranch, Obama playing basketball. I think these shots are meant to humanize leaders, but in Putin’s case it almost seems like an attempt to project superhuman athleticism, competence and control –almost evoking a mythic god-like element suggesting Classical Greek figures. The fact that he is a small in stature may be playing into it? Compensating? 

The plant in his pocket might be some type of blueberry. The trees look like spruce or fir, and so would be consistent with the majority of Siberia being in the boreal forest biome. It may just as easily be Alaska or Canada, as the flora and vegetation stucture is very similar. I know nothing more than these generalities.

Damaris Brisco on mushrooms:

[I can’t identify the mushroom] down to the species, sadly; could be any number of what’s known colloquially as “boletes” (though many of those spongy-pore mushrooms are now classed in other genera besides Boletus.) They’re widespread and fairly common in both deciduous and coniferous forests of Europe. Unfortunately, “brownish cap, yellow pores” describes a wholelot of Russian boletes. A closer look at the stipe & pore surface, along with a color-corrected shot of the cap, would help tremendously with ID…as would knowing where the mushroom was found.

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