What do you think about when you hear the name “Vladimir Putin”?
For many of us in the West, the first image of Putin that comes to mind might be Beck Bennett’s iconic and ridiculous shirtless impression of the Russian president on SNL. Putin became a real-life meme when he was photographed shirtless riding a horse, and that impression has stuck in the minds of people ever since.
But there are more memorable images of Putin than just that one meme. Like Donald Trump or Kim Jong-Un, Vladimir Putin has been caught in plenty of odd, embarrassing, and downright meme-worthy moments. Here are the 20 oddest Vladimir Putin moments caught on camera.
Awkwardly meeting Obama
Things always seem to get weird when Putin meets with other international leaders. Here, we see him in Mexico with President Barack Obama in 2012. What is notable is just how much the two men clearly dislike each other, though Putin tries to summon his best fake smile for the cameras.
Feeding a moose
You might be surprised to discover that Putin is something of an animal lover. And when he visited the Moose Island National Park in Moscow back in 2010, he took the time to feed an adorable moose.
Putin the… judo master?
You’d probably be surprised to learn that Putin is a huge judo enthusiast. But this 1971 photo shows him practicing judo with Vasily Shestakov in St. Petersburg. The two later co-authored a book on judo! Shestakov is now president of the International Sambo Federation (Sambo is a Russian martial art.)
With the big dogs now
While Putin loves to encounter other people’s animals during his travels, he likes to have his own animals to come home to. And this 2013 picture shows his loyal dogs Yume and Buffy waited at his Novo-Ogaryovo home for his arrival.
Nothing humbles any man, even Vladimir Putin, quite like playing sports when you’re a bit older. In this 2017 photo, we see Putin falling down on the ice during the Night League hockey match at the Shayba Olympic Arena in Sochi, Russia.
Putin raised eyebrows at Beijing’s Apex Summit in 2014 when he put a shawl on the Chinese president’s wife, Peng Liyuan. Viewers wondered if the recently divorced Putin was flirting or just being polite. But Liyuan quickly shrugged off the shawl and replaced it with a coat of her own, prompting social media to dub the incident #coatgate. NPR even reported the moment was censored in China!
Feeding a horse
Putin the animal lover is seen here in a 2009 photo feeding a horse near the town of Kyzyl. We’re guessing he didn’t have to take his shirt off for the photo but was really feeling himself. Photos like this one inspired Beck Bennett’s impression on SNL.
Is this the softer side of Vladimir Putin? This 1970 photo shows him happily dancing with a classmate in St. Petersburg.
You’ve probably noticed a running theme that Putin likes to be photographed with animals. But this is probably one of his most unusual animal photos. At the 2014 G20 Summit in Brisbane, Australia, Putin and and the Australian prime minister took the time to hug some koalas before getting down to business.
Taking to the skies
Sometimes, we’re pretty sure Putin does stuff like this to get his own line of action figures. In this 2012 photo, we see Putin taking to the skies in a motorized hang glider as part of an experiment to save a rare bird species.
Under the sea
Putin isn’t just content with exploring the skies; he wants to explore the seas as well. In 2013, he hopped in this submersible vehicle in the Baltic Sea to cruise the ocean floor and explore a sunken ship.
Worst. Photo op. Ever.
Earlier, you saw how much Obama and Putin seemed to dislike each other. Here, you see a photo op between Putin and President Joe Biden that is even weirder. This moment took place in June 2021 in Geneva, Switzerland at Putin and Biden’s first meeting since Biden became president. They sit very far apart and don’t seem to be paying any attention to one another.
As a judo enthusiast, here Putin shows some moves to these young Siberian judo students in Kemerovo in 2012.
Greeting a walrus
It’s a stereotype that politicians spend way too much time shaking hands. Putin might agree after he ended up shaking a walrus’s hand when visiting an oceanarium in 2013. (And you thought the koala image was odd!)
We know now that Putin is an animal lover in general and a dog lover in particular. But this 2017 video captures the strange moment when Putin is gifted a puppy. It looks like neither he nor the dog knows what they are supposed to do next!
Hanging with George W. Bush
Putin has been in power so long he has dealt with most living American presidents, including George W. Bush. This 2006 photo captures when they both took part in the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit, and raised a few eyebrows for wearing Vietnamese tunics.
No eye contact
It’s true: there is seemingly no shortage of weird Obama/Putin moments over the years. And this moment captures the time when both of them tried to avoid eye contact and merely looked in the other’s direction during conversations. Calling this moment “weird” is truly an understatement!
We’ve seen Putin’s athletic side, playing hockey and practicing judo, but he also has a surprising artistic side. When he visited the village of Verkhniye Mondrogi in 2001, Putin took the time to try out his pottery skills.
So much for holiday cheer
In Russia, they have Father Frost instead of Santa Claus. Regardless of what the winter holiday figure is called, this 2008 photo reveals a Putin who appears ready to cry “bah, humbug” and be done with it.
Putin, the hockey star?
When you’re one of the most powerful men in the world, you can basically do whatever you want for your birthday. And in 2015, Putin decided he wanted to play hockey with the Night League sports stars over in Sochi.