the president of Russia, Vladimir Putinturned 70 on Friday, 7, amid sycophantic greetings from subordinates and an appeal by the country’s Christian Orthodox leader for everyone to pray for the health of the longest-serving leader since Josef Stalin (1941-1953).
The moment, however, is not one of celebration. Putin is currently facing his government’s biggest challenge after the invasion of Ukraine sparked the most serious confrontation with the West since the 1962 missile crisis, when the country was still part of the Soviet Union.
In addition, the Russian army suffers from a series of defeats for the Ukrainian military, which has drawn criticism from conservatives and brought uncertainty about the future of the war.
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National authorities on Friday hailed Putin as the savior of modern Russia, while the Patriarch of Moscow, Orthodox-Christian Bishop Cirillo I, urged the population to offer two days of special prayers that “God grant the president health and longevity”.
“We pray to you, our Lord God, for the head of the Russian state and ask that you give him your rich mercy and generosity, grant him health and longevity, and deliver him from all visible and invisible resistance from the enemy.” he said.
Putin’s critics, however, say the nation is on a dead-end road to ruin. Even pro-war nationalists say the Kremlin leader should take more forceful measures in the conflict, such as the use of tactical nuclear weapons, and that praise for him betrays a fragile system of sycophants that is set to collapse.
+ After Kiev’s successes, Moscow says Russian retreat does not contradict annexation
At the same time, the president’s fervent supporters say his actions are responsible for saving Russia from destruction by an arrogant and aggressive West.
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“Today, our national leader, one of the most influential and outstanding personalities of our time, the number one patriot in the world, the President of the Russian Federation, Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin, turns 70,” said Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, adding that he was responsible for changing the global position of the country.
Despite the praise, the constant defeats have forced Putin to do everything possible to maintain the population’s support for the conflict. More than seven months have passed since its inception, the Russian Army accumulates a series of humiliating setbacks that culminate in the loss of several territories.
In an attempt to change the game, he even announced a partial mobilization that calls for the call-up of 300,000 reservists and uttered a thinly veiled threat that he could use nuclear weapons to achieve his goals. In a more recent move, he also formally announced the annexation of the four breakaway provinces of Kherson, Zaporizhzhia, Donetsk and Luhansk.
+ More than 200,000 reservists have already been called up by the army, says Russia
However, none of this brought the expected result. The mobilization was negatively received across the country and provoked a series of protests and escapes by men fleeing military service. In addition, most of those drafted are being dismissed for not having enough training to go to Ukraine, and the army in the country is unable to maintain the pre-established borders in the annexation.
Vladimir Putin has been at the helm of Russia for nearly 23 years, having been handpicked by former President Boris Yeltsin in a surprise announcement on New Year’s Eve 1999. Through changes to the Constitution made by his government in 2020, he could stay in office until at least 2036, while no candidate has enough clout – or space, amid widespread opposition crackdowns – to defeat him.
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Despite his age, he keeps a busy schedule and follows through on almost all government affairs, actively participating in meetings and discussions.
As he got older, Putin seemed worried about his legacy. At the beginning of the war, he even compared himself to Tsar Peter the Great, saying that both were involved in historic missions to reconquer Russian lands.
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