Strongman leader Vladimir Putin has sat down for an interview with supermodel Naomi Campbell, telling her Russia had tougher guys than him and praising Moscow students who undressed for his birthday for their courage.
Putin, known for his adrenaline-fuelled antics, told the British supermodel of experiences including swimming butterfly in a cold Siberian river and coming face to face with a tiger but added Russia had braver men than him.
"I'm not the tough guy," the prime minister said, recalling how he last summer roared into a bikers' rally on a Harley Davidson.
"Those guys are," Putin said in an interview for the British version of GQ magazine published this week.
Campbell met Putin on the sidelines of a summit dedicated to the protection of wild tigers held in Saint Petersburg, Putin's hometown, in November and the interview is to be published by men's magazine GQ in its March issue.
Speaking of his reaction to an erotic calendar in which lingerie-clad students from Moscow's top university proclaimed their love for Putin on his birthday, the prime minister applauded the girls and said undressing for him was in fact more courageous than criticising him.
"I like the girls a lot, they're beautiful," said Putin, who is widely expected to run in 2012 presidential polls. "The girls in the erotic calendar were courageous and they were not scared. As student journalists, they couldn't fail to understand what might have been said to them after doing this.
"Nonetheless, they were not deterred and did the calendar anyway."
Soon after the risque calendar hit the stands, the young women's classmates released an alternative calendar in which they were shown with their mouths taped to signal their disapproval with Putin's authoritarian policies.
Putin scoffed at the criticism, saying: "It's fashionable to criticise people in power."
"If you come out in support of someone like me, you're going to be accused of trying to ingratiate yourself," Putin said.
Putin agreed to speak to Campbell, the girlfriend of Russian real estate tycoon Vladislav Doronin, because she had shown interest in the tiger protection programme and helped conduct the summit, Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov, said.
Earlier the supermodel interviewed for the GQ magazine Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez, Putin's self-professed friend.