'Back in the game' Putin marks birthday with eye on Syria, hockey exploits08 october 2015, 15:46
Vladimir Putin marked his 63rd birthday Wednesday dividing his attention between hockey and Syria as supporters sang his praises, comparing him to a range of heroic figures from Buddha to Batman, AFP reports.
The Russian president has been back in the international limelight since launching a bombing campaign against the Islamic State group in Syria last week, much to Washington's chagrin.
The strikes followed Putin's first address at the United Nations General Assembly in a decade, which ended a period of isolation over Moscow's seizure of Crimea from Ukraine last year.
Putin marked the occasion by holding a meeting with his defence minister before the two took to the ice in the Olympic city of Sochi to play hockey with government officials and NHL stars including Pavel Bure.
He scored seven goals, the Kremlin said, leading his team to a 15-10 win.
"Those who are moving with eyes on a victory will certainly score it," he said in televised remarks as he opened the new season of the Night Ice Hockey League, which he helped put together.
The start of the match was broadcast live on national television, with Putin listening to the national anthem on the ice next to other players.
The Ice Hockey Federation of Russia awarded the president an award for his contributions to the sport, Rossiya 2 television channel said on Twitter.
In Grozny, the capital of Chechnya, where the Kremlin fought two wars against separatists over the past 20 years, Russian and Italian footballers played a match in Putin's honour.
In other greetings, rapper Timati released a new song and video clip extolling the return of his "best friend" to the big stage.
"He is in charge, so everything will be according to plan," the lyrics say. "My best friend is back in the game."
The video, which features black-clad skateboarders with Putin masks, shows Timati performing in front of the Kremlin.
"Vladimir Putin marks his 63rd birthday," a ticker on the state-owned Rossiya 24 rolling news channel read.
'Embodiment of heroism'
Supporters also rolled out a new exhibition of flattering paintings, depicting Putin in various heroic guises, including the black-clad Matrix protagonist Neo, the Buddha in lotus position, Che Guevara in his black beret and Mahatma Gandhi.
The "Putin Universe" exhibition also shows him as artist Salvador Dali, space pioneer Yury Gagarin, sleuth Sherlock Holmes, French leader Charles de Gaulle, comic book superheroes Batman and Hulk -- and even French saint Joan of Arc.
"Vladimir Putin's character is the embodiment of heroism, fairness, slyness, intellect, courage and charm," the exhibition organisers said in a statement.
Milos Kojic, a Serbian political expert who helped put together the display in central Moscow, told AFP: "We just want to thank him for the job he is doing for the whole planet."
Kojic said the paintings were the works of Putin admirers who are members of his fan group on Facebook.
The same fan group was behind a similar exhibition last year that praised Putin's achievements by comparing them to the "12 Labours of Hercules", the Greek demigod renowned for his strength.
The Kremlin said Putin had received "numerous" birthday greetings, including from the heads of Kazakhstan, Belarus, Armenia and Azerbaijan.
His birthday coincides with the date of the murder of one of his fiercest critics, investigative reporter Anna Politkovskaya, who was gunned down in Moscow in 2006.
While five men were jailed last year for their role in her murder, those that ordered the hit have never been brought to justice.
"Time does not heal," her newspaper, Novaya Gazeta, declared on its front page Wednesday.
At an annual prize-giving ceremony in honour of the crusading journalist, women's rights group RAW in WAR handed its Anna Politkovskaya Award to Syrian journalist Kholoud Waleed, who fled government forces in her war-torn homeland.