The widely publicized incident in which Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin pulled up ancient Greek jug fragments from the seabed on a diving expedition was staged, his chief spokesman said.
The August dive in the Kerch Strait that connects the Black and Azov seas was reported extensively in Russian and overseas media. Putin is noted for his habit of appearing in vigorous and adventurous settings, including fishing while stripped to the waist and riding with leather-clad motorcyclists.
In video footage of the dive, Putin holds two fragments of what are said to be 6th century B.C. Greek jugs and says "the boys and I found them" in about six feet (two meters) of clear water.
But his spokesman Dmitry Peskov said in an interview shown Tuesday on the Dozhd TV channel that the jugs had been found earlier by archaeologists and placed there for Putin.
"Look, Putin didn't find down there jugs that had lain there for many thousands of years. It's obvious," Peskov said in response to questions from the interviewers.
"Of course, they were found in the course of an expedition several weeks or days earlier. Of course, they were left there or placed there. It's completely normal. There's no reason to gloat about this and everything else," he said.
Peskov's comments were an unusually candid glimpse into the cultivation of Putin's image as a tough man of action.
Previous image-boosting appearances, which have shown Putin hunting, riding horseback and admiring a tranquilized polar bear, have contributed to his popularity, but have also prompted bitter comments on blogs and social media.
Peskov's rare interview with a television station that has been critical of the government could reflect authorities' concerns about a negative attitude to Putin's re-election bid among the nation's intellectuals and middle class.
Putin, who was president in 2000-2008, is almost certain to return to the Kremlin in next March's election. He and President Dmitry Medvedev announced last month they had agreed that Putin would run for the presidency and Medvedev would be named prime minister.