Vladimir Putin for his 70th birthday Friday was gifted a tractor by the Belarusian president and told by the head of Russia’s Orthodox Church that “God” put him in power, while the Kremlin held back on celebrations as Moscow faces setbacks in Ukraine.

The same day, the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to three human rights organizations and activists: Ales Bialiatski of Belarus, Russia’s Memorial group and Ukraine’s Center for Civil Liberties.

The committee said it wanted the prize to highlight the “way civil society and human rights advocates are being suppressed” in Russia.

In Russia, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church Patriarch Kirill said that Putin’s reign over Russia had been mandated by God.

“God put you in power so that you could perform a service of special importance and of great responsibility for the fate of the country and the people entrusted to your care,” the patriarch said, joining a chorus of Russian officials congratulating Putin on his birthday.

The Patriarch praised Putin for “transforming the image of Russia, strengthening its sovereignty and its defence capability, protecting its national interests.”

Kirill wished “health and a long life” to the Russian leader, who has been in power for more than 20 years.

He also called on worshippers across the country to pray for Putin’s health.

“You gained the reputation of a national leader selflessly devoted to the Fatherland, sincerely loving the Motherland and giving all its strength to it,” the Patriarch said.

The leader of the Russian Orthodox Church since 2009, Kirill has been a vocal supporter of the military operation in Ukraine.

Kirill has close ties with Putin’s government, backing conservative values over Western liberalism.

‘If there is Putin, there is Russia’

Close Putin ally, Belarus strongman leader Alexander Lukashenko, told journalists he gifted a Belarusian tractor “the best one out there” to the Russian president.

Lukashenko was in Putin’s hometown, Saint Petersburg, for a meeting with the Kremlin chief and leaders of ex-Soviet countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS).

He said the tractor could be used to sow wheat so that Europeans “do not starve or steal bread from Ukraine”.

The conflict between Russia and Ukraine, two of the world’s biggest grain exporters, had disrupted exports, raising fears of a global food crisis.

Putin received a flurry of birthday messages, including from Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov who wished “good health, long life and successes” to the Russian president in a video statement mixed with archive footage and emotional music.

“Putin has changed the position of Russia in the world and made it a nation to be reckoned with!” Kadyrov said.

The speaker of the Russian parliament Vyacheslav Volodin said on Telegram: “if there is Putin, there is Russia.”

Around 40 people from 20 different ethnic groups making up Russia took part in a flash mob near the Kremlin, according to state-run news agency TASS.

Putin was also praised by officials installed by Moscow in the Ukrainian regions it partially controls and claims to have annexed.

Kremlin-backed leader of Zaporizhzhia region Yevgeny Balitsky said on Telegram that “thanks to Vladimir Vladimirovich and the people of Russia, the Zaporizhzhia region became part of the great country, reunited with its family.”

His counterpart in the Donetsk region Denis Pushilin said “for the residents of Donbas, the name of the leader of our country is forever associated with the most important event in recent history — the return home.”

Seven months into the Ukraine offensive, Putin is isolated from Western countries and has been looking east in the face of unprecedented sanctions.

The Kremlin has not reported any messages of congratulations received from Washington or Brussels.

Friday is also the anniversary of the murder of Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya, who was shot dead on October 7, 2006.

Her murder, which sent shockwaves around the world, is still unresolved.

© 2022 AFP

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