Moscow—Russian President Vladimir Putin celebrated his 66th birthday Sunday under green palm and cypress trees at his Sochi residence by the Black Sea. Just as Josef Stalin did, Putin likes to spend his time in the tropical city, thousands of miles away from Moscow’s gloomy and cold sky. Putin’s birthday guest, Italy’s media mogul and former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, posted a picture of himself in the president’s tropical gardens below a bright blue sky and in front of the sea.
Last October Berlusconi tried to be original and brought as his birthday gift a king-size duvet, embroidered with his own face and that of Putin. But not many in Russia would be amused with that sorts of joke now. A social study by the Public Opinion Foundation showed that less than 50 percent of Russians wanted to see Putin for their president – his lowest popularity rating in the last five years. The popularity of Putin’s ruling party, United Russia, was melting too: only 31 percent supported its policy.
Bad news has rained on Putin’s head lately. The leader of the pro-Russian Donetsk People’s Republic, the capital of Putin’s “Russkiy Mir,” died in a bombing attack in a restaurant. The Netherlands accused Russia of a cyber attack and expelled four officers from GRU, the Russia’s military intelligence agency. Great Britain had earlier found evidence that the two Salisbury suspects were state assassins from this same agency. Even Russia’s old friend, Greece expelled two Russian diplomats and banned two more from entry for undermining state security. Somebody drilled a hole in the Russian module of the International Space Station Even Cossacks, Putin’s previously reliable allies in United Russia have quit his party and condemned the Kremlin’s policy in a new video.
Russians are convinced that the “galley’s slave,” as Putin once described himself, is one of the world’s richest men and already has everything he needs. And yet, every year on his birthday the state television, news agencies and even independent media tell stories about Putin’s admirers giving him exotic or dull presents – puppets, swords, dachas or palaces. Earlier this year, the Chinese leader, Xi Jinping, presented Putin with a harp made thousands of years ago and a wooden statue with Putin’s face. On Sunday, among the first to greet Putin with tokens of appreciation and congratulations were leaders of Belarus, Serbia, Azerbaijan, China and Republica Srpska, all still convinced Russia can serve as a reliable ally.
Meanwhile in Moscow, analysts said that Putin had more bad than good news on this day. “Putin has given himself two big presents this year: an unpopular pension reform, causing the loss of his popularity, and a complete failure in foreign policy,” a Moscow politician, Dmitry Gudkov, told The Daily Beast.
“This year the world witnessed a complete failure of Putin’s secret services, his secret agents shamed the nation in several countries, his lies became obvious during the investigation of MH-17 downing over Donbas – his own lies and actions are his worst birthday presents.”
The Daily Beast · by Anna Nemtsova · October 7, 2018