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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.
A picture released on March 6, 2010 shows Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin taking a horseback ride in the Karatash area, near the town of Abakan, during his working trip to the Republic of Khakassia, on February 25, 2010.
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin wears a helmet and the uniform of the Renault Formula One team before driving a F1 race car on a special track in Leningrad region outside St. Petersburg, on November 7, 2010.
Vladimir Putin test drives a Renault Formula One team car at a racing track near Leningrad, on November 7, 2010.
Vladimir Putin holds a five-year-old tiger's head as scientists put a collar with a satellite tracker on the animal in the academy of sciences Ussuri reserve in Russia's Far East, on August 31, 2008.
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin holds a judo training session at the Top Athletic School during his working visit to St Petersburg, on December 18, 2009.
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.
On August 10, 2011, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin carries two pieces of archaeological trophies he discovered during diving near an archeological excavation of an ancient Greek port on the Taman Peninsula.
This picture taken on September 19, 2009 shows Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin looking at a leopard as he visits the National Park in Sochi.
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.
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.
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.
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin attempts to bend a frying pan with his bare hands during his visit to the summer camp of the pro-Kremlin youth group "Nashi" at lake Seliger, some 400km (248miles) north of Moscow, on August 1, 2011.
Vladimir Putin drives a snowmobile at Russia's ski resort Krasnaya Polyana near Sochi in southern Russia, on January 3, 2010.
Russia's Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, wearing headphones, sits in the cockpit of a firefighting plane in Ryazan region August 10, 2010. The plane later dropped water on a blaze southeast of Moscow, state media reported.
Vladimir Putin hugs a Bulgarian shepherd dog, after receiving it as a present from Bulgaria's Prime Minister Boiko Borisov in Sofia, on November 13, 2010.
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.
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.
Prime Minister Vladimir Putin looks at a bear while visiting the South Kamchatka Federal Sanctuary at Russia's Pacific Kamchatka peninsula, on August 24, 2010.
Russia's Prime Minister Vladimir Putin rides a horse in southern Siberia's Tuva region, on August 3, 2009.
Vladimir Putin swims in a lake in southern Siberia's Tuva region, on August 3, 2009.
Russia's Prime Minister Vladimir Putin signs autographs for kids outside Khabarovsk, on August 27, 2010 during a visit in the region.
Vladimir Putin aims at a whale with a crossbow, to take a piece of its skin for analysis on the Olga Bay, some 240 kilometers north-east of Nakhodka, on August 25, 2010.
Russia's Prime Minister Vladimir Putin attaches a satellite tracking tag to a Beluga whale named Dasha during his visit to Chkalov island, some 700 kms northeast of the city of Khabarovsk, on July 31, 2009.
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin plays piano during a charity concert in Saint Petersburg, on December 10, 2010.
Vladimir Putin feeds a young moose at the national park "Losiny Ostrov" in northeast Moscow, on June 5, 2010.
n 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.
Russia's Prime Minister Vladimir Putin steers a boat near a bear on the shoreline, at the South Kamchatka Sanctuary outside Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky in the Far East of Russia, on August 24, 2010.
Vladimir Putin walks through brush in southern Siberia's Tuva region, rifle in hand, on August 15, 2007.
Russia's Prime Minister Vladimir Putin sits inside a T-90AM tank during his visit an exhibition in the Urals town of Nizhny Tagil, on September 9, 2011.
Vladimir Putin strikes iron as he visits "Talsy" Architecture and Ethnography Museum in the Irkutsk Region of eastern Siberia on August 1, 2009.
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin takes part in a training session for young ice hockey players before the start of the "Golden Puck" youth tournament finals in Moscow, on April 15, 2011.
Vladimir Putin takes part in an expedition to Ubsunur Hollow Biosphere Preserve to inspect the snow leopard's habitat in Tyva Republic in the Siberian Federal District, on October 29, 2010.
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.
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin adjusts his sunglasses as he watches an air show during MAKS-2011, the International Aviation and Space Show, in Zhukovsky, outside Moscow, on August 17, 2011.