AFP – Georgia’s sport-loving President Mikheil Saakashvili has climbed one of Europe’s tallest mountains accompanied by a fierce critic of his arch-foe Vladimir Putin.
In a show of macho prowess reminiscent of the Russian strongman, Saakashvili toughed out rough conditions to reach the 5,047 metre (16,558 feet) summit of Mount Kazbek in the Caucasus Mountains that straddle the border with Russia.
The publicity stunt– designed to promote tourism in the ex-Soviet state– saw Saakashvili’s group, including Russian opposition figure Andrei Illarionov, a liberal former economics advisor to Putin, delayed by high winds and low visibility.
“We finally achieved our goal despite the tough road!” Saakashvili wrote on his account on social networking site Facebook on Monday.
“We climbed the last part of the mountain with alpine ropes and special equipment.”
One picture published on Facebook shows a smiling Saakashvili standing on the snow-capped summit in full climbing gear clutching a ice axe and safety rope, while another photo shows the Georgian leader and his fellow climbers posing with Georgian and Russian flags.
“Once you reach the top you can realise with special intensity how beautiful and special our Georgia really is,” Saakashvili wrote.
Saakashvili– who has previously stripped down to his swimming trunks before the cameras for a marathon swim in the Black Sea– has to step down as president when his second term expires next month.
His sporting feats have previously drawn comparisons with some of Putin’s well-publicised outdoor exploits, which have included swimming in a Siberian river, collaring a tiger and hang-gliding with cranes.
The two faced off during the brief 2008 war between Georgia and Russia and have made little secret of their personal enmity, with the Russian leader reportedly vowing to hang the Georgian president “by the balls”.
According to some interpretations of classical mythology, Greek deity Zeus was reputed to have chained the titan Prometheus to Mount Kazbek to punish him for stealing fire from the gods and giving it to man.