Brian Whitmore

By Brian Whitmore, for RFE/RL

Like any head of state, Vladimir Putin has an army of bodyguards to protect him.

But unlike most heads of state, he now seems to also have guards protecting pictures of him as well.

Police have apparently been deployed in Kuzbass and Yakutsk to guard Putin’s campaign billboards.

According to a report by RFE/RL’s Russian Service, the billboard bodyguards were dispatched after somebody wrote the word “liar” on a Putin campaign poster in the Kremlin leader’s hometown of St. Petersburg.

Now, one can say a lot of things about this.

One can say it reflects the deep insecurity that lurks beneath the Putin regime’s bravado.

One can also say it illustrates, yet again, that Russia’s election next month is not an election at all, but a ritual aimed at sanctifying the national leader.

But I think the most relevant thing one can say about this is that it’s a perfect metaphor for Putin’s long rule.

Because on one hand you have the well-documented reality of the Kremlin regime today — the cronyism, the widespread corruption, the arbitrary application of the law, the ossifying and ageing ruling elite, and the declining living standards for ordinary Russians.

And then you have the image Putin’s army of spin doctors promote — that of the adored great leader who has restored Russia’s greatness.

But an army of spin doctors is no longer enough to protect this image.

Now, doing so requires a team of armed guards.

By Brian Whitmore, for RFE/RL