Putin strips off for icy dip to mark Orthodox Epiphany

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He was then seen dunking himself in the icy water and crossing himself.

Russian President Vladimir Putin bathes in an ice-cold water on Epiphany neat St. Nilus Stolobensky Monastery on Lake Seliger in Svetlitsa village, Russia, Friday, Jan.

Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said the temperature of the water was 21 degrees Fahrenheit.

The ceremony to purify the spirit drew half a million worshippers to natural and artificial pools at 4,000 sites across Russian Federation on Friday, the government-run Channel One reported - including some who took a dip in the sea at Sochi and others who plunged into minus-58 degree waters in remote Yakutia. In Putin's case, that's religiosity intertwined with statecraft, and outdoorsy, bare-chested feats of strength.

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Putin has garnered wide attention for photos and video footage of him shirtless on horseback, shirtless fishing, shirtless hunting and now, shirtless worshipping.

Other Orthodox countries such as Ukraine and Belarus mark Epiphany in similar ways, while in Bulgaria the holiday incorporates a competitive element-not only are each town's most able-bodied churchgoers sent into freezing waters, but they go in all at the same time, racing to find a crucifix, previously blessed and hurled in by the local bishop. State media looked on, Reuters reports, at his celebration of the Epiphany.

The Kremlin's top critic Alexei Navalny has slammed Russia's March presidential election, in which he is barred from running, as a sham meant to "re-appoint" Vladimir Putin on his way to becoming "emperor for life", reported AFP. The embassy in Moscow referred inquiries to the State Department, which declined to comment.

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