Vladimir Putin’s spectacular "discovery" of two sixth century Greek urns whilst he was scuba diving in shallow water earlier this summer was a publicity stunt, the Russian prime minister's chief spokesman has admitted.
Press secretary Dmitry Peskov confessed that the artefacts had been sneaked into the water on purpose for the former KGB agent to find. In an interview with TV channel Dozhd he said:
"Look – Putin didn't find down there jugs that had lain there for many thousands of years. It's obvious."
"Of course they were found in the course of an expedition several weeks or days earlier. Of course they were left there or placed there. It's completely normal. There's no reason to gloat about this and everything else."
The concession was a rare moment of public transparency in a country where much of the media is controlled by the state. Dozhd is one of the few channels that have been criticial of the government, with Peskov’s choice prompting speculation that the latest move could be an attempt to counter his poor ratings in opinion polls.
When Putin emerged dripping and triumphant with two suspiciously unmossy urns "rescued" from the Black sea, his adoption of "treasure hunter" mantle was ridiculed across the blogosphere as just another shameless stunt in a long line of cultivated macho performances.
"Diving in the Taman gulf, the Russian prime minister immediately found two amphorae that had been waiting for him since the 6th century AD at a depth of two metres," wrote independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta.
"He was lucky: In the same place, over the last two years archaeologists and divers of the Russian Academy of Sciences managed to find only a few pottery shards."
Putin's masculine showmanship has been well documented in recent months, with pictures showing him flying fighter jets, fishing topless and fire fighting, leading comedienne Laura Solon to describe him as the: "Poor women's Daniel Craig" on Radio 4's news quiz.
Vladimir Putin was president from 2000-2008 and will almost certainly become Russia's new leader after elections next March.