It’s Good to Be King: How Putin Spent His 63rd Birthday

How does the Russian leader who has everything mark his birthday?

GettyImages-478371155
GettyImages-478371155

Russian President Vladimir Putin has a lot to celebrate on his 63rd birthday: His popularity rating at home is sky-high, his intervention in Syria has left the West flat-footed, and no one seems to be talking much about Ukraine these days. So how does the Russian leader who has everything mark his birthday? He plays hockey with Soviet-born NHL stars and his inner-circle of Kremlin-backed oligarchs.

Shortly after news broke Wednesday of another round of Russian airstrikes and a barrage of missiles from warships in the Caspian Sea, Putin was seen on the ice with hockey legends Vyacheslav Fetisov, Pavel “the Russian Rocket” Bure, and Alexander Mogilny. He was also joined by a collection of tycoons and officials, such as Gennady Timchenko and Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu. Putin scored a modest seven goals in the nationally broadcast match, leading his team to a 15-10 victory in an amateur hockey league the president founded in 2011.

But the hockey game was only the figurative icing on the president’s cake (or the stuffing in his pirozhki), as Putin birthday mania gripped Russia.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has a lot to celebrate on his 63rd birthday: His popularity rating at home is sky-high, his intervention in Syria has left the West flat-footed, and no one seems to be talking much about Ukraine these days. So how does the Russian leader who has everything mark his birthday? He plays hockey with Soviet-born NHL stars and his inner-circle of Kremlin-backed oligarchs.

Shortly after news broke Wednesday of another round of Russian airstrikes and a barrage of missiles from warships in the Caspian Sea, Putin was seen on the ice with hockey legends Vyacheslav Fetisov, Pavel “the Russian Rocket” Bure, and Alexander Mogilny. He was also joined by a collection of tycoons and officials, such as Gennady Timchenko and Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu. Putin scored a modest seven goals in the nationally broadcast match, leading his team to a 15-10 victory in an amateur hockey league the president founded in 2011.

But the hockey game was only the figurative icing on the president’s cake (or the stuffing in his pirozhki), as Putin birthday mania gripped Russia.

To honor Putin’s big day, Russian Rap/Pop star Timati released a music video titled “My Best Friend.” In addition to scenes of Russian youth on skateboards and BMX’s wearing masks of the president’s face and Timati racing down the Moskva River on a jet ski, the incredibly catchy song features the chorus “My best friend is President Putin.” In another verse, Timati raps “the whole country is behind him, you know he’s an awesome superhero!” while standing in Red Square with St. Basil’s Cathedral in the background.

Besides the music video tribute, Putin was commemorated at a two-day art exhibit in Moscow titled “Putin Universe.” Russian artists depicted Putin as different historical figures, including Ernesto Che Guevara, Salvador Dali, and Alexander the Great. A similar exhibit was held last year for Putin’s birthday, but depicted the Russian president as the mythical ancient Greek warrior Hercules carrying out a modified version of the hero’s twelve labors. In it, Putin slayed a multi-headed hydra representing Western sanctions and strangled the personification of terrorism with his bare hands, among other tasks.

Putinmania even spread to Italy, where the luxury retailer Caviar unveiled a special edition of the iPhone 6S engraved with Putin’s head in gold for the president’s 63rd birthday. Appropriately, only 63 copies of the limited-edition phone, which costs more than $3,200, are available for sale.

Putin has been riding a wave of popularity since the annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in March 2014, which have kept his domestic approval ratings well above 80 percent. In Moscow’s latest foreign foray in Syria, the Russian public appears less receptive. According to a Sept. 28 poll released by the Moscow-based Levada Center, only 39 percent of respondents said they supported Russia’s policy toward the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and 69 percent opposed military intervention in Syria.

But concerns over Syria don’t seem to stick to Putin, according to the same polls: The president’s approval rating is hovering at a solid 84 percent. A happy birthday, indeed.

Photo credit: Harry Engels/Getty Images

Reid Standish is an Alfa fellow and Foreign Policy’s special correspondent covering Russia and Eurasia. He was formerly an associate editor. Twitter: @reidstan

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