Popular Putin Celebrates 'Herculean' Birthday in Wild Siberia
MOSCOW (AP) — Russian President Vladimir Putin is celebrating his 62nd birthday in the wilderness of Siberia as supporters from across Russia create tributes in his honor.
Putin celebrated his birthday Tuesday in the Siberian forest some "300-400 kilometers (185-250 miles) 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.
In Grozny, the capital of Chechnya, thousands carried a 600-meter-long (650 yards) Russian flag through the streets. Others dressed in the red, white and blue of the Russian tricolor 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.
Russian news websites published photographs from a one-day exhibition in Moscow titled "The 12 Labors of Vladimir Putin," in which Putin is depicted as Hercules — battling Western nations disguised as serpents and monsters or taming an ox bearing the symbol of Crimea, the Ukrainian region annexed by Russia in March.
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 percent according to the independent Levada Center, which conducted a poll in September with a margin of error of plus or minus 3.4 percent.
Souvenirs decorated with Putin's face have become best-sellers 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.
Musa Sadulayev in Grozny, Chechnya contributed reporting.