MOSCOW - Kremlin officials like to insist Russian President Vladimir Putin does not care for big birthday bashes and that he will be spending his 60th on Sunday quietly celebrating with close friends and family in his home city, St. Petersburg. However, the president's supporters don't appear to have received the memo, and so the day has seen an unprecedented exhibition of Putin-idolatry reminiscent of some of the world's oddest cults of personality.
Much of it, like it the fawning, up-close-and-personal profile on Kremlin-friendly television channel NTV, looks like propaganda. Some of the praise can be so extreme as to appear almost like a subtle form of satire on Putin's heroic representations in state media. And some Putin opponents have used the occasion to poke fun.
Here is a brief look at ways Putin's 60th birthday was marked:
The pro-government Mestniye youth movement held a sports contest in a central Moscow square under the slogan "Do Your Best for Putin." Organizers said the slogan symbolizes their gratitude for Putin's efforts to boost the popularity of sports by personally indulging in a healthy lifestyle. The black-belt judoka has over the years been shown horse riding, swimming, scuba-diving, playing ice hockey, and indulging in outdoor hunting.
NTV broadcast a documentary purporting to describe the details of Putin's working life. The program shows his daily routine, which includes swimming and weight-lifting exercises, a breakfast of porridge, the drive to work, and the late-night working sessions at the office. The program is laden with insights from Putin on the state of the opposition (poor) and the two-year jail sentence verdict against antigovernment punk band Pussy Riot for their performance in a cathedral (fair).
An art exhibition titled "Putin: The Most Kind-Hearted Man in the World" opened in Moscow. The show features around a dozen paintings by artist Alexei Sergiyenko closely modeled on photos of some of the president's most memorable moments —riding a horse bare-chested, weeping at a celebration rally after his 2012 election victory, and leading cranes in flight on a motorized hang-glider. Many of the paintings, apparently created in earnest, depict Putin's well-publicized fondness for animals and show him stroking a tiger cub, bottle-feeding a calf, and pouting lovingly at a chick nestled in his hand.
Ten mountaineers have scaled a 4,000-meter (13,125-foot) ridge in the southern republic of North Ossetia-Alania to erect a 4-by-6 metre (13-by-20-foot) portrait of the leader. Kazbek Khamitsayev, president of the republic's alpinist federation, says an official request has been lodged to rename the spot Peak Putin. The ex-Soviet Central Asian nation of Kyrgyzstan beat them to it in 2011, when it gave that name to one of its many mountains.
TIME TO RETIRE
A small group of people bearing mocking gifts assembled outside the presidential administration. A Facebook page titled "Time For Grandfather to Retire," created ahead quickly organized protest in Moscow, said presents for Putin's retirement could include anything, from money to Viagra pills. During the demonstration, many of the present-givers were bundled away by riot police, including who man with carrying a pair of pyjamas with stripes that made them look like a prison uniform.