Kremlin officials like to insist that the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, does not care for big birthday bashes and that he was to spend his 60th birthday yesterday quietly celebrating with close friends and family in his home city, St Petersburg.
However, the President's supporters appeared to have missed the memo. And so the day saw an unprecedented exhibition of Putin-idolatry reminiscent of some of the world's oddest cults of personality. Much of it, such as the fawning profile on Kremlin-friendly television channel NTV, looked like propaganda. Some of the praise was so extreme as to appear almost like a subtle form of satire.
The pro-government Mestniye youth movement held a sports contest in a central Moscow square under the slogan "Do Your Best for Putin".
Organisers said the slogan symbolises their gratitude for the President's efforts to boost the popularity of sports by indulging in a healthy lifestyle – a black-belt judoka, he has over the years been shown horse riding, swimming, scuba-diving, playing ice hockey and indulging in outdoor hunting. An art exhibition titled "Putin: The Most Kind-Hearted Man in the World" also opened in Moscow. The show features paintings by artist Alexei Sergiyenko closely modelled on photos of some of the President's memorable moments – riding a horse bare-chested, weeping at a celebration rally after this year's election victory and leading young cranes in flight on a microlight.
But the event was also an opportunity for Putin opponents to poke fun. A small group bearing mocking retirement gifts assembled outside the presidential administration yesterday, and a Facebook page titled "Time For Grandfather to Retire" was created.
During the demonstration, many of the present-givers were bundled away by riot police.
Meanwhile, 200 people held a rally in Moscow to mark the sixth anniversary of the unsolved murder of crusading reporter Anna Politkovskaya, a critic of Kremlin policies in Chechnya, who was shot in her Moscow apartment building in 2006.