Black-clad Putin roars into Ukraine biker fest

Russia's Prime Minister Vladimir Putin meets with Russian and Ukrainian bikers at their camp near Sevastopol in Ukraine's Crimea, July 24, 2010. REUTERS/Alexander Zemlianichenko/Pool

GOSFORT LAKE, Ukraine (Reuters) - Russia’s Prime Minister Vladimir Putin staged another display of his macho, regular guy image on Saturday, joining a gathering of bikers in Ukraine astride a three-wheeled Harley Davidson clad in black.

Putin, whose approval ratings slumped last month to the lowest level of his two-year premiership, frequently shows up at quirky events that critics call publicity stunts, though his spokespeople deny it.

Most Russians believe Putin will run for president again in 2012 and needs to keep his ratings high.

On Saturday, the bikers roared when Putin rolled into their camp near the Black Sea port of Sevastopol on a Harley Davidson Lehman Trike decorated with Russian and Ukrainian flags.

“This is cool that we have all gathered here today because we came here not on party or state orders, which is also sometimes necessary, but because we all wanted to be together, here and today,” Putin told the crowd, calling them “brothers”.

He ended by shouting “long live Russia, long live Ukraine” and “long live bike” in Ukrainian before heading off to a meeting with President Viktor Yanukovich.

Some bikers said they were sceptical about Putin’s choice of a trike, however.

“Two wheels are cool. When someone wants to have something slightly resembling a real bike he buys a tricycle,” said one Ukranian biker who identified himself only as “Chief”. (Reporting by Gleb Bryanski; editing by Sonya Hepinstall)