Girls wash cars in bikinis and gather on central Moscow square to strip as part of a movement to raise support for Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's potential presidential candidacy.
MOSCOW, RUSSIA (JULY 22, 2011) (REUTERS - A band of young women ripped off their shirts in central Moscow on Friday (July 22) to back Prime Minister Vladimir Putin as president in an upcoming vote, the latest outpour of popular support for Russia's paramount leader.
Putin, 58, president between 2000-2008, may return to the Kremlin after the March 2012 vote. He had stepped down due to consecutive term limits, handing the reins to his protégé, the current Russian president, Dmitry Medvedev.
"This man, this politician (Vladimir Putin) is very attractive to us because of his political and economic knowledge, he knows a lot about various areas. We would like to see him as our President in the future. We want to support him using all possible means and hope that this is one of them," said Inna, one of around 20 girls who form "Putin's Army", a movement urging girls to show their support for Putin by taking off their clothes.
Wearing pink flowers in their hair and white t-shirts with a rose-coloured portrait of Putin, they pranced about a central square before tearing at their clothes to reveal their bras.
"Putin! Putin! Putin!" they screamed in unison to a small crowd of male passersby who had stopped to gawk.
Analyst Maria Lipman from Moscow's Carnegie Centre said such campaigns in support of Putin are likely to continue.
"This action is interesting not because the girls are stripping to underwear, but because they made a video which advertised a recently created movement or group by them. Putin is called 'our President' (in this group). This is new and I am sure there will be others who will start calling him 'our President' even though he is our Prime Minister and has not even said that he would like to be our president again. Nevertheless, this is quite brave," Lipman told Reuters.
The public support follows a carwash by bikini-clad students, a day earlier (July 21) at the Moscow State University, who advertised the service by using a play on words involving Putin's initials.
"(We gathered here) to wash cars and to support Vladimir Putin. Because we really like him," one of the car washers, Olga, told Reuters.
Although it is not clear who is behind the pro-Putin campaigns involving scantily clad women, they do not exaggerate Putin's enormous popularity in Russia, where he presided over a decade, which saw an economic boom.
Having cultivated a macho image for himself over the last decade in power, Putin has also taken to appearing in public bare-chested. He has also frequently undertaken testosterone-fuelled feats such as flying fighter jets.
Independent Russian polls show Putin's popularity rating recently running at almost 70 percent. Earlier this month the Kremlin's first deputy chief of staff and staunch Putin supporter, Vladislav Surkov said Putin had been sent by God.
The former KGB spy, Putin, who was appointed prime minister by an ailing then president Boris Yeltsin, later inherited the presidency and restored national pride by sending troops back into Muslim Chechnya to quell a burgeoning insurgency and created stability following the chaos of the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union.
Neither Putin nor 45-year-old Medvedev have said if they will run in the March vote, which comes after parliamentary elections in December 2011.