MOSCOW — Leo Tolstoy, Alexander Pushkin, Anton Chekhov — the masterworks of Russian wordsmiths adorn bookshelves around the world.
And now another countryman's oeuvre can be added to the list: President Vladimir Putin.
Russian firm Novy Klyuch says it will publish every word Putin has spoken since his ascension in 2000, including his state-of-the-nation addresses — 15 so far — speeches, statements as well as articles penned by him.
“We realized that every Soviet leader — [Leonid] Brezhnev, [Nikita] Khrushchev — had their complete works out, but not Putin,” publisher Vadim Rakhmanov said. “I think Russia is lucky to have a leader such as Putin."
He added: "There is great interest in a print edition from political science scholars, historians and ordinary people."
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While all of Putin's public statements are already available on his official website, a print edition is longer-lasting, Rakhmanov added.
The first three volumes went on sale on June 3. It was not yet clear how many more volumes would eventually be published, Rakhmanov said.
While early Soviet leaders dabbled in everything from political theory to linguistics, all carefully collected in print, Putin is not known for theoretical works. His collection concentrates on political statements and commentary on contemporary affairs.
The Kremlin has authorized the publication, but not backed it financially, Rakhmanov said.
Novy Klyuch, the driving force behind the project, is a small publisher specializing in religious and historical literature.
"The government is testing whether the Russian society is ready to make a couple more steps back to its Soviet and imperial past."
The three volumes are available at a combined price of 2,500 rubles ($40) and have a print run of 1,000 copies, of which 800 are already sold, the publisher said. There are no plans for an English-language edition.
Putin still has a long way to go to match Soviet leaders: Millions of copies of the collected works of Vladimir Lenin and Joseph Stalin were printed and distributed to most libraries across the then-U.S.S.R.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov has cautiously praised the project, saying on June 1 that “systematizing the president's statements for those who are interested is a positive thing,” TASS state news agency reported.
Although Putin is routinely blasted by Western leaders and rights groups for his authoritarian style of leadership, he remains popular in Russia, with current approval ratings of over 80 percent.
In 2014, first deputy Kremlin chief of staff and domestic policy czar Vyacheslav Volodin famously said that “Putin is Russia; without Putin, there's no Russia.”
Last year, Volodin's office published a small collection of Putin's best quotes entitled “Words That Change the World,” which was sent to all major Russian politicians as a gift.
Even with his work in print, Putin is probably some way from presiding over a personality cult, said Maxim Gorynov, a philosopher and expert on contemporary Russian ideology.
“The small print run is the best indication ... that no one really needs the collected works of Putin,” he said in emailed comments. “But it does look like this way, the government is testing whether the Russian society is ready to make a couple more steps back to its Soviet and imperial past.”
Alexey Eremenko is a producer in NBC News’ Moscow bureau. He previously worked at Russia's sole English-language daily The Moscow Times and on the English desk of the RIA Novosti newswire. His main beats included politics, space and environment, and he has reported from Afghanistan, Mali, Iran and across Russia.