Putin celebrates 'Herculean' birthday

Putin celebrates 'Herculean' birthday

MOSCOW - Agence France-Presse
Putin celebrates Herculean birthday

Souvenirs and clothing featuring Putin or pro-government slogans have become popular in Russia this year. Putin marks his 62nd birthday on Oct. 7.

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Oct. 7 marked his 62nd birthday in the Siberian wilderness as supporters compared his takeover of Crimea to one of the "12 Labours of Hercules" and 100,000 marched in his honour in Chechnya.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Putin had taken a day off from his "extremely intense" agenda to celebrate his birthday in the depths of Siberia.

"This place is some 300 to 400 kilometres away from the nearest settlement," Peskov told the Komsomolskaya Pravda tabloid, saying the president worked virtually around the clock and needed a breather. "He will rest," he said, declining to say whether Putin would have company in Siberia.

The president is riding a wave of popular support following Moscow's annexation of Crimea in March, with ordinary Russians, ex-Soviet leaders and Ukrainian separatists singing his praises on Oct. 7.

More than 100,000 people, some carrying giant flags, marched in the president's honour in the Chechen capital of Grozny, led by Kremlin-backed regional leader Ramzan Kadyrov who carried a portrait of Putin.

Supporters in Moscow staged an exhibition of paintings designed to symbolise Putin's achievements, comparing them to the "12 Labours of Hercules", the demigod of Greek mythology renowned for his strength.

The paintings depict the takeover of Crimea, which is compared to capturing the Cretan Bull, fighting corruption (compared to the cleaning of the Augean Stables) and what supporters portray as the most difficult labour of all - standing up to the United States, which is compared to Cerberus, the multi-headed dog of mythology.

"Since Putin's last birthday Russia under his leadership has made a leap into a political 'terra incognita'," the mass-circulation daily Moskovsky Komsomolets trumpeted, saying he would remain "indispensable" for the country.

Alexander Zakharchenko, prime minister of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic in eastern Ukraine, praised Putin for the protection of the "Russian world" and supporting rebels in the ex-Soviet country.

But while this year's festivities had all the slavish adulation that has marked Putin's birthdays over the past decade, not everyone was celebrating. His critics attacked him, while wits asked on Twitter whether Putin could remain in the Siberian woods for good.

Opposition magazine The New Times marked the day with a new dose of gallows humour, with jokes poking fun at life under Putin.

In Ukraine, where contempt for Putin runs high, the 1+1 television channel compiled a collection of profanity-laced Twitter messages and Internet memes.

"According to statistics, the average life expectancy for Russian men is 62 years," read one tweet.