October 7, 2012

Protests undermine show of support for Vladimir Putin's 60th birthday (VIDEO)

A pro-Kremlin activist in Moscow dances in front of a poster depicting the Russian president on his 60th birthday. Photograph: Alexander Zemlianichenko/AP

Hand of Kremlin behind many stunts backing the president while some Russians suggest it's time he retired.
Men climbed peaks and unfurled his portrait, while women flirted shamelessly in videos that quickly went viral: Russians celebrated Vladimir Putin's 60th birthday on Sunday with adulation fit for a king.

All across the country, cities attempted to outdo each other with platitudes. The town of Vladimir woke up to find the city's name changed to reflect Putin's name and patronymic – Vladimir Vladimirovich – on all its street signs. In the southern region of North Ossetia, 10 mountaineers scaled a 4,150-metre mountain and planted a large portrait of Russia's powerful leader – the first step, they said, towards having it renamed Peak Putin.

Not everyone in the kingdom was in celebratory mood. The irony of the fact that Putin has reached 60, the age at which Russian men are eligible for retirement, in the year of his contentious return to the Kremlin was not lost on those who have spent much of the past year taking to the streets in anger.

A takes photos of the paintings by artist Alexei Sergiyenko at his exhibition 'President. The kindest person' marking the 60th birthday of Russia's President Vladimir Putin at the Flacon design workshop in Moscow
"Lead Grandad to Retirement" was the name of one protest held by around 150 of those demonstrators, who came equipped with pipes and slippers as retirement presents for the increasingly unpopular Putin.

"How much can we take? We thought it was time for him to go calmly and maybe with these presents, he would see that retirement isn't so bad," said opposition activist Roman Dobrokhotov. About 10 activists, including Dobrokhotov, were briefly detained.

Putin returned to the presidency in May following a four-year interlude as prime minister because of a constitutional ban on the serving of more than two consecutive terms. He has been at the country's helm since 2000 – more than one-fifth of his eventful life.

Vladimir Putin's 60th birthday honoured with stunt homage by female youth
If he finishes this term and serves another, he will have been in charge for longer than Leonid Brezhnev and almost as long as Josef Stalin. The comparisons between Putin and the latter have only grown in recent months, not least because of Putin's own calls for a Stalinesque "great leap forward" in industry and the renewed spotlight on show trials, such as that of the feminist punk band Pussy Riot.

But the Kremlin has gone to some lengths to downplay the cult of Putin's personality. None of the celebrations held on Sunday were officially sponsored by the Kremlin. Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said the president disliked such grandiose displays and would celebrate the day surrounded by close family and friends in his home town of St Petersburg.
Vladimir Putin says Russian opposition leaders needs to be cast aside

Yet the state's hand was visible in nearly all the festivities. NTV, a state-run channel owned by the gas monopoly Gazprom, aired a fawning documentary detailing the ins and outs of Putin's daily life. There was Putin in his cavernous office, Putin swimming laps in a pool, Putin peeking into a refrigerator, Putin answering the questions of a journalist with a brow that strained to furrow.

Rumours of plastic surgery have long haunted Putin, who continues to maintain a macho image despite his advancing years.

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