Russian President Vladimir Putin is celebrating his 62nd birthday in the wilderness of Siberia as supporters from across Russia create tributes in his honour.
Putin celebrated his birthday Tuesday in the Siberian forest some "300-400 kilometres from the nearest populated area," his press secretary told Russian news media. Putin has often brandished his tough-guy image with widely publicized wilderness romps during which he hunts, fishes or rides horses – often while shirtless.
Russian news websites published photographs from a one-day exhibition in Moscow titled The 12 Labours of Vladimir Putin, in which Putin is depicted as Hercules battling Western nations disguised as monsters – including Canada, represented as one of the heads of the Hydra with a Maple Leaf in its crown – or taming an ox bearing the symbol of Crimea, the Ukrainian region annexed by Russia in March.
In Grozny, the capital of Chechnya, thousands carried a 600-metre-long Russian flag through the streets. Others dressed in the red, white and blue of the Russian tricolour walked through the streets as an enormous human flag, many of them holding portraits of the Russian leader over their heads. Ramzan Kadyrov, Chechnya's President, wrote on his official Instagram account that there were 100,000 participants.
Putin's always-high ratings have skyrocketed this year as he responded to a pro-European uprising in Ukraine by seizing Crimea, and reacted defiantly to Western sanctions.
His approval rating remains at 86 per cent according to the independent Levada Center, which conducted a poll in September with a margin of error of plus or minus 3.4 per cent.
Souvenirs decorated with Putin's face have become bestsellers on Red Square, while Russian designers have made him the theme of pricey T-shirts and sweaters.
Patriarch Kirill, head of the Russian Orthodox Church, congratulated Putin on his birthday and said his tenure in office had become "an integral part of national history."
However, as the value of the ruble sinks under pressure from sanctions, some online commentators were less enthusiastic: "The dollar is 40 [rubles], the Euro is 50 [rubles], and Putin is 62," was one joke that spread across the Web.
With a report from Globe staff