Vladimir Putin descended to the depths of the Black Sea on Tuesday in a special bathyscaphe. The trip was part of a geographical expedition to inspect the wrecks of sunken 11th-century ships off Sevastopol in Crimea.
This wasn't the first time Putin has braved the briny deep. In 2013, he boarded a similar craft in the Gulf of Finland to view the wreck of a frigate that sank in 1869.
And in 2009 he visited the bottom of Lake Baikal in Siberia, the world's deepest lake.
The submarines are clearly part of the macho action man persona carefully calibrated by Putin's spin doctors — they make him look like a Bond villain, or, at least, James Cameron.
But some Russians, including former opposition lawmaker Gennady Gudkov, think there's another purpose — to distract people from the anniversary of the Kursk submarine disaster 15 years ago.
The sinking of the Kursk in the frigid Barents Sea, when 118 crewmen died after a torpedo accident, was the first major catastrophe for Putin's presidency.
Putin's handling of the disaster was notoriously bad. He failed to cut his Black Sea holiday in Sochi short, then refused international assistance for days that could have saved the 23 sailors who survived the initial explosion.
A popular conspiracy theory holds that the Kursk was sunk by an American submarine, and that Putin held off the rescue to stop the world from finding out.
A meeting with relatives of the drowned sailors turned into a public relations nightmare as they harangued him for inaction.
When Larry King asked him, "What happened with the submarine?" Putin smirked and said, "It drowned." Many Russians saw his glib remark as a sign he simply didn't care.
Today, Kremlin media plays down Putin's role in the disaster. One sailor's children even marked the anniversary last Wednesday in Putin T-shirts.
A Ukrainian journalist even posited that Putin was trying to game his search results, tuning out pictures of the disaster.
If that is Putin's idea, a quick search on Yandex, Russia's most popular search engine, suggests that hasn't worked yet.
But don't worry: There's a lot of ocean left for Putin to explore. People are bound to forget soon enough, right?
Max Seddon is a correspondent for BuzzFeed World based in Berlin. He has reported from Russia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan and across the ex-Soviet Union and Europe. His secure PGP fingerprint is 6642 80FB 4059 E3F7 BEBE 94A5 242A E424 92E0 7B71
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