MOSCOW — Vladimir Putin, never shy with a photo-op, took his man-of-the-people act to the hip-hop dancefloor Friday, where he used a rap music competition to deliver an anti-drugs message.
"Graffitti is becoming a true art, fine and delicate," Putin, clad in a beige turtleneck and grey sports jacket, told a young crowd at the "Respect" rap contest.
"And breakdance is something peculiar," he said. "This really is propaganda for a healthy lifestyle because it is hard to imagine breakdancing having anything to do with drinking and dope," Putin said.
The powerful Russian president-turned-prime minister praised the spectators packed into the room where they watched displays by contest participants of making graffitti, breakdancing and belting out rap tunes.
"I must say honestly that those young people who are pursuing these kinds of arts in our country are bringing in their own, Russian charm" to them, Putin said during the contest, portions of which were shown on state television.
The youths appeared charmed themselves by the appearance of the 57-year-old Putin, who remains by far Russia's most popular politician despite ceding the Kremlin last year to Dmitry Medvedev.
"It would be cool to produce a joint track with Putin because he is a legendary person and our idol," gushed Rapper Zhigan, one of the winners of the contest, quoted by the state news agency RIA-Novosti.
"We would create so much noise for him that the whole world would hear."
Putin is keeping the world in suspense over whether he is plotting a return to the Kremlin but presses his image, posing with bikers, swimming the butterfly in wild Siberian rivers, fly-fishing shirtless and riding on horseback for the cameras.