Vladimir Putin went to an annual summer camp organized by the pro-Putin youth group Nashi, in what was widely seen as an early stop on his election campaign to retake the Russian presidency.
SELIGER - Entering the camp at Seliger, 300 miles northwest of Moscow, you quickly encounter a stage decorated with portraits of Dimitry Medvedev and Vladimir Putin, each sporting solemn Communist-era facial expressions that look like they'd been fashioned from granite.
Next to them are other portraits, but skillfully sketched in pencil, and stretching up to two meters high. The wooden flooring bears the words "the Kuril Islands are ours' (a reference to Russia territory dispute with Japan) while posters and quotes from Putin are hanging everywhere you look.
"Who is Putin thinking about?" asks a sign above a mirror. Your reflection shows that far from thinking about him, he is in fact thinking about you. Another larger-than-life poster of the Prime Minister warns, "Beware, those who sell alcohol to minors will end up in court."
There is a stand, showing off versions of the premier; as a cosmonaut, a builder and even a fisherman. Once you reach the other side of the camp, you begin to wonder if there is nothing he can't do.
Helicopter blades are heard chopping above. Panic ensues as it lands, as cries ring out: "Putin, Putin is coming!"
To the crowd's great disappointment, the figure emerging from the chopper is only the tourism minister and a few of his cabinet colleagues, all bewildered by such a rock-star reception. When Putin does finally arrive an hour and a half later, he seems at ease with the cheering of more than 4,000 young people.
He walks through the camp, stopping to listen to his famous 2007 Munich speech where he slammed the U.S, blaring out of loudspeakers.
Rock climbing, arm wrestling and political swaps
His next stop is to pause in front of a two-seater bike, looking at it pensively. It seems to remind him of something.
There is also canoeing, arm wrestling and weightlifting. He then passes a board of holographic images of him and Dmitry Medevdev superimposed over each other, above them the words, "They are swapping."
Soon after, several thousand people squeeze into a tent in Putin's biggest ever press conference. He says he is proud to be there with so many young people. Putin then for the first time ever, describes how his father was one of only four out of 28 who survived behind enemy lines in World War II, and although seriously injured, miraculously saved his mother from death.
Asked about a possible American default, he calls the U.S "parasites on the world economy," and later says he couldn't give a damn about people who don't like his United Russia party.
One girl asks if he plans to return to Seliger next year, and if so, in what capacity. The question is elegantly put, which is more than can be said for the answer.
"If you are keen to sit down and chat with me, does it matter in what capacity? There's your answer."
One excited young man asks if a new political formation was created to help United Russia in the elections.
"To a large degree, that is true", the premier unexpectedly agrees. "Is that a bad thing? It is not a trap, we want to rejuvenate United Russia to appeal to new, interesting and beautiful people."
In response to other questions, he assured those present that the Americans did land on the moon and that the 9/11 attacks were not an inside job.
One girl asks earnestly: "Could Russia return to totalitarianism? There wasn't this kind of corruption under Stalin."
‘You really think so?" Putin says.
"Kind of," she replies.
"That's a shame", he sighed. "It is an ineffective way of running a country; it kills creativity and free ideas, that's what happened with the Soviet Union."
One student in particular took the premier's interest.
"What is your major? Political mathematics? That's a pseudo science."
The student then asked: "Is there any doubt you will stand in the 2012 elections."
Putin replied: "Tell me again what your major is? Mathematical political science? That's a harmful subject. The future is just around the corner and we may need to consult you over what to do next."
The back rows of young people gradually stop listening, even as those in front still eagerly raise their hands.
Sensing that he could test the audience's patience no longer, the Prime Minister stood up and left, but the support of the 4,000-strong youth army left behind him seemed stronger than ever.
Read the original story in Russian
Photo - openDemocracy