At 60, Russia's Putin can 'officially' say he's reached his peak

The president has reached retirement age, but will do no such thing. Miriam Elder reports from Moscow.

The president has reached retirement age, but will do no such thing. Miriam Elder reports from Moscow.

MEN climbed peaks and unfurled his portrait while women flirted shamelessly in videos that quickly went viral: Russians celebrated Vladimir Putin's 60th birthday this week 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 4150-metre mountain and planted a large portrait of Russia's powerful leader the first step, they said, towards having it renamed Peak Putin.

But not everyone was in celebratory mood. The irony of the fact 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.

Russian officials remained mum on another anniversary celebrated on October 7, the day in 2006 on which investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya was murdered.

As Putin was getting ready to celebrate his birthday in St Petersburg, opposition activists in the northern city gathered in the centre of town to unfurl a banner reading: "Putin, we remember everything."

Mr 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.

If he finishes this term and serves another, he will have been in charge for longer than Leonid Brezhnev and almost as long as Joseph Stalin.

The comparisons between Putin and the latter have 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 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 with family and friends.

Yet the state's hand was visible in nearly all the festivities. NTV, a state-run channel, aired a fawning documentary, while presents and messages poured in from across the former Soviet Union, including one from Patriarch Kirill, the head of the Russian Orthodox church, whose close relationship with Putin prompted the cathedral protest that resulted in Pussy Riot's arrest.

"Today, Russian citizens' desire to live in peace and harmony, to determine their own destiny, and to maintain their spiritual and cultural identity, is being realised in large part thanks to your efforts and timely decision-making," he said.

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