Vladimir Putin held a press event at his residence in Sochi on Thursday to show off a brand new military-grade version of a Russian-built UAZ Patriot truck. In the course of the inspection, Putin tried to open the front passenger-side door, but the door wouldn’t budge. The head of the Main Armor Office of the Russian Ministry of Defense, Lieutenant-General Alexander Shevchenko, stepped up to help the President. The Russian General pulled on the door handle and it gave away, coming off in his hand. The nervous-looking general then proceeded to demonstrate the other strong points of the new UAZ: the back door still opens, and the vehicle can be fitted with a 12mm machine gun. The Patriot’s designers tried to explain away the incident: the handle did not work because the vehicle was “blocked” since the engine was not running.
It was by no means the first time Putin’s staged attempts at burnishing his country’s resurgent superpower status ran headlong into technical difficulties. Two weeks ago, Putin arrived at the newly-constructed Vostochny Cosmodrome to witness the launch of a Soyuz rocket. What was supposed to be a bold display of Russia’s prowess ended in debacle: the first launch failed to get off the ground due to “technical glitches”, and Putin had to stay in Blagoveshchensk, in Russia’s Far East, a second day for the rocket to finally take off.
A year ago a brand new next generation battle tank, the T-14 Armata, stalled in middle of Red Square during a military parade rehearsal, two days before Putin’s favorite national holiday, Victory Day.
The vehicle could not be moved and stayed put on the parade ground during the entire rehearsal. An announcer explained over the loudspeaker that the stop was a planned test of the army’s evacuation procedures. Apparently, the announcement was not loud enough, because Nikolai Zharich, the deputy director of Uralvagonzavod (the firm that builds the Armata), tried to explain away the incident by blaming the driver’s nerves. “Just imagine how agitated these young guys are when driving these new vehicles for the first time. They are still learning,” he posted on Twitter—before quickly deleting it.
In 2011, Vladimir Putin was invited to test-drive a brand new Russian car, the Lada Granta.
Wearing black sunglasses, a sporty bomber jacket, and an unbuttoned shirt, the Russian President struggled with the machine. First, he could not open the trunk. Then, he had to try five times to start the engine before the car finally grudgingly cooperated. Putin afterwards explained to journalists that the new Lada has an electronic gas pedal, which one should not press down on while starting the engine. Three months later, Avtovaz’s CEO Igor Komarov confessed: “After I heard the engine making those sounds, honestly, I fell into a coma. But [Putin] never criticized, he just smiled. And I am very grateful to him for explaining to journalists just what happened. Because I would have never been able to get off so clean, so to speak.”
Eventually, Komarov lost his job at Avtovaz, but the Lada problems were not the reason. He was last year asked to head Roskosmos, the state federal space agency—the same one responsible for the failed Soyuz rocket launch. This time, both he and Deputy Prime Minister Dmitri Rogozin (who famously promised to start building secret Russian bases on the moon by 2020), received a stern reprimand from Putin.
The deputy CEO of Uralvagonzavod, however, suffered no career setbacks for the Armata’s very public failure. And Lieutenant-General Alexander Shevchenko, the one who appeared to be stronger than the brand new Russian military vehicle, was praised by Putin. “Good job,” the Russian President said to him.