Prime Minister Vladimir Putin enjoyed a close encounter with a bear on Tuesday while President Dmitry Medvedev met rock star Bono as Russia’s ruling duo used their summer travels to burnish their images.
The eye-catching encounters, widely broadcast on state television, appeared targeted at sharpening the political profiles of the Russian leaders who have spent the past weeks fighting Russia’s worst ever wildfire crisis.
Russian television showed Putin watching a brown bear at a nature reserve in the Kamchatka region of Far East Russia, known for its spectacular wildlife and home to around 19,000 bears.
Dressed in camouflage gear, Putin watched from a wooden platform as the bear calmly beheaded and munched a fish at the Yuzhno-Kamchatsky reserve, which swarms with salmon during spawning.
In previous animal-themed photo opportunities, Putin put a tracking collar on a polar bear in April and felled a rare Amur Tiger with a tranquillizer dart in 2008, before kissing it on the cheek.
In the southern beach resort of Sochi, Medvedev met U2 frontman Bono ahead of the Irish rock band’s first concert in the country this week.
"Your music unites many generations in many countries, but I think today we will not only talk about music, because the campaign work that you and your colleagues do has won you a lot of respect in the world," Medvedev said.
The summer vacation period has become known for the photo stunts undertaken by Russia’s top two and last year saw Putin famously riding half naked on horse in Siberia and Medvedev wading in the Volga Delta.
Russia is heading for presidential elections in 2012 and, with speculation buzzing that Putin may be planning a return to the Kremlin, both men are keen to keep a sharp political image.
Medvedev met Bono for tea on the terrace of his holiday villa, Bocharov Ruchei, near the Black Sea resort town of Sochi, which will host the 2014 Winter Olympics.
Medvedev, who has confessed his love for classic rock bands Pink Floyd and Deep Purple, wore an open-necked shirt and jeans for the meeting, while Bono dressed more formally in a dark jacket and his trademark earrings.
Topics of the conversation included the prevention of polio, which has resurged recently in Central Asian region south of Russia, and treatments to end the spread of HIV from mothers to their babies.
The meeting lasted just over an hour, with Medvedev and Bono being filmed for around 15 minutes and then speaking off the record, a Kremlin spokesman told AFP.
The meeting was a friendly "tete-a-tete", the spokesman said. "It was the meeting of two people who would be interested in each other."
The men were shown in a jocular discussion of music, both agreeing that they like Led Zeppelin.
Talking to Russian journalists on Sunday, Bono had joked that he would cancel the meeting with Medvedev because of his musical tastes.
Told that Medvedev favors rock band Deep Purple, Bono jokingly got up from his seat and said, "Oh no, we’re cancelling the meeting," the Kommersant daily reported on Monday.
But in a jarring note, human rights campaigners on Tuesday sent an open letter to Bono complaining of "political censorship" after a Russian rock star was barred from giving a concert at an environmental protest.
The letter was signed by rights campaigner Lev Ponomarev and five other activists and posted on the website of the Echo of Moscow radio station.
The Moscow authorities banned a concert by Yury Shevchuk, the outspoken lead singer of veteran rock band DDT, at a demonstration on Sunday against plans to build a motorway through a forest outside Moscow.
"We would be very grateful if you pointed out to (Medvedev) that political censorship has spread