Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Russia lauds birthday strongman Putin

By Anna Smolchenko (AFP)

MOSCOW — An ode was published in his honour. A painting was given to him by the president. A novelist wished him a long life. And the Orthodox Church praised him for his tact. There was no shortage of leading Russians Wednesday queuing up to congratulate their favourite politician Vladimir Putin on his 57th birthday, with his critics still sidelined after 10 years in power. "Fifty-seven years is an average age," mused leading novelist Valentin Rasputin at a meeting Putin attended with some of Russia's best known writers.

"Today people live for a long time and statesmen -- the more they work... the more energies remain for the rest of the life," Rasputin was quoted as saying by Russia's official news agency ITAR-TASS. "God willing you manage the same. We wish everything goes well for you. And what is well? That means well for the country, well for us." Analysts say Putin, who served eight years as Russia's second post-Soviet president and has now settled comfortably into the role of prime minister, remains Russia's favourite politician. He is keeping the world in suspense over whether he is plotting a return to the Kremlin but if he wins the 2012 polls he is likely to stay in power for another 12 years, until he turns 72.

A Russian newspaper, the Nezavisimaya Gazeta, carried an ode in honour of Putin on its front page that stepped a fine line between eulogy and irony. "I congratulate you, comrade Putin/ And may God give you another 120 years," it said. Patriarch Kirill, head of the Russian Orthodox Church, extolled what he described as Putin's openness, wisdom and tact.

"With inherent tact you persistently defend the interests of the state, confirming the authority of power far outside the country's borders," he said in a statement posted on the Church's website. Putin's protege and now president, Dmitry Medvedev, also took the time to meet with Putin and presented him with a painting, the Russian television said. Earlier Wednesday, Putin met with some of Russia's leading writers at the Pushkin Art Museum in Moscow, pledging more financial aide for them in an apparent attempt to win the intellectuals' support. But several top writers, including author Dmitry Bykov and prize-winning novelist Lyudmila Ulitskaya, said they had declined invitations to meet Putin.

"I am not attending," Ulitskaya told AFP.

"I am leaving today on my holidays and I bought my tickets in advance," she added without giving further details. Later Wednesday, Bykov attended an event to mark the memory of Anna Politkovskaya, an anti-Kremlin journalist killed three years ago. Neither the Kremlin nor Putin made any statements regarding her unsolved murder in 2006.
Bykov told Moscow Echo radio that he would have considered attending, but Putin's birthday was a bad choice for the event.

"The fact it's on his birthday turns it into protocol. My upbringing does not allow me to see someone on his birthday and then talk about problems with him, to express criticism." Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov confirmed that several writers were unable to come but denied this was because of any objections towards the prime minister. Putin loses no opportunity to stress that he is in good physical health -- be it by posturing with a naked torso in the Russian wilderness or diving to the bottom of the world's deepest lake. Moskovsky Komsomolets, a newspaper seen as being close to the Kremlin, said Medvedev's main problem was the elite didn't consider him to be a decision maker. "At a time when the president makes his speeches, the prime minister makes all the real decisions," it said. "That's the main internal political challenge faced today by Dmitry Medvedev."

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