Vladimir Putin, the 58-year-old former president and current prime minister of Russia, has cultivated a distinct public image over the past several years. The politician has piloted firefighting planes, darted whales, driven race cars, and even taken a submersible 1,400 meters (4,600 ft) below the surface of Lake Baikal. Putin was forced to step down from the presidency in 2008 due to a constitutional limit on more than two consecutive terms. However, he remained the most influential figure in Russian politics, and has had a strong hand in the "tandem rule" between himself and current president Dmitri Medvedev. The next presidential election takes place in March of 2012, and indications are that both Medvedev and Putin are planning to run, though neither has officially announced his candidacy yet. Gathered here are some of the more interesting photos taken of Vladimir Putin during his tenure as Russia's prime minister over the past few years. [34 photos]
Vladimir Putin prepares to dive during a visit to an archeological excavation of an ancient Greek port on the Taman Peninsula, about 1150 kilometers (720 miles) south of Moscow, Russia, on Wednesday, August 10, 2011. Ancient Greek colonies were located on the peninsula and served as trading posts with the steppes of what is now southern Russia and Ukraine.
(AP Photo/RIA Novosti, Alexei Druzhinin) #
Yana Lapikova, a new personal photographer of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, taking pictures during an official event in Moscow, on June 16, 2011. The Russian government sought on June 17 to douse a frenzy of Internet comment after it hired Lapikova, an attractive former model and "Miss Moscow" finalist, as personal photographer to Putin.
(Alexander Nemenov/AFP/Getty Images) #
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin on a boat on Lake Ladoga, as he visits the Spaso-Preobrazhensky Monastery on Valaam island, northern Russia, on August 14, 2011. During the visit to Valaam he took part in the Sunday service in the upper church of the Transfiguration Cathedral.
(AP Photo/RIA-Novosti, Alexei Druzhinin) #
Vladimir Putin participates in an arm-wrestling contest during a visit at a summer camp run by the Nashi youth group at Lake Seliger in the central Tver region, on August 1, 2011. Thousands of young activists from 84 regions of Russia gathered in the camp for the annual forum in Russia.
(Alexei Nikolsky/AFP/Getty Images) #
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin rides with motorcycle enthusiasts during his visit to a bike festival in the southern Russian city of Novorossiisk, on August 29, 2011. Putin kicked off an election campaign on Monday revving up his three-wheeled Harley Davidson at the head of a bikers motorcade.
(Reuters/Alexei Druzhinin/RIA Novosti) #
Vladimir Putin talks to a member of the "Lena-2010" Russian-German scientific expedition on Samoilovsky Island in Far Eastern Federal District, on August 23, 2010. Putin traveled beyond the Arctic Circle on Monday to look into evidence on climate change after a record heatwave devastated central Russia this summer.
(Reuters/Ria Novosti/Alexei Druzhinin) #
In this Monday, August 29, 2011 photo, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin talks to leader of Nochniye Volki (the Night Wolves) biker group, Alexander Zaldostanov -- also known as Khirurg (the Surgeon) -- at a bikers' festival in the Black Sea port of Novorossiysk, Russia.
(AP photo/RIA Novosti, Alexei Druzhinin) #
A video grab shows Russia's Prime Minister Vladimir Putin looking through the porthole of the "Mir-2" mini-submersible in Lake Baikal, on August 1, 2009. Putin dove into the depths of the lake aboard the mini-submersible on Saturday, descending 1,400 meters (4,600 ft) below the surface of the world's deepest lake to inspect valuable gas crystals.
(Reuters/RIA Novosti/Kremlin) #