* Putin claims support of "overwhelming majority" on 60th
* Tributes peak with mountain-top portrait
* Critics scoff at Soviet style personality cult
By Alissa de Carbonnel
MOSCOW, Oct 7 Supporters planted Vladimir
Putin's portrait on a mountain peak on Sunday as Russia marked
his 60th birthday with adulation worthy of the Soviet era, but
some mocking protesters portrayed him as a pensioner fit for
A wave of satire including comparisons to Soviet leader
Leonid Brezhnev, whose 18-year rule until his death could be
surpassed by Putin if he seeks and wins a fourth term in 2018,
has hurt his macho image as he has faced the biggest opposition
protests since he was first elected president in 2000.
But adoring supporters staged tributes ranging from floating
a giant-size inflatable birthday cake on the Moscow river to
unfurling his portrait on bridges, buildings and even a mountain
top. The head of Russia's Orthodox Church hailed Putin as a
"real patriot" in a birthday message.
T he ruling party's loyal Young Guard movement published a
video on its website portraying Putin as the ultimate ladies'
man, waited on by a gaggle of long-legged women. Other events
around the country played on the tough-guy image that has been
core to Putin's political appeal.
Anti-Putin activists say he won a third term despite
protests alleging elections have been rigged and ridiculed the
birthday festivities as a personality cult.
They ditched plans for a major march through Moscow but a
h andful of activists were detained for staging a "Let's send
Grandpa into retirement" action near Red Square.
Critics say the former KGB spy's reluctance to enact reforms
and a series of moves to suppress dissent since returning to the
Kremlin in May echo the political repression and economic
stagnation associated with the Brezhnev era.
Putin brushed off criticism in an interview with a
pro-Kremlin television channel aired on Sunday.
"From the first, almost everything I did was criticised,"
Putin was cited by Russian news agencies as telling NTV. "The
main thing is that the overwhelming majority of people still
"But the most important thing - it's hard to explain - is
some kind of internal chemistry, sense of rightness, of
correctness in what I'm doing and how people react," he said.
Putin defended Russia's two-year jailing of three female
members of the anti-Kremlin group Pussy Riot for bursting into
Moscow's main cathedral and belting out a song insulting Putin.
"It is right that they were arrested and it was right that
the court took this decision because you cannot undermine the
fundamental morals and values to destroy the country," he said.
The head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill,
who has portrayed Pussy Riot's protest as an attack on
traditional values, said Putin had pursued "the path of a far
seeing politician and a real patriot for his country".
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the president would
spend the day relaxing with close family.
In the most ambitious tribute, a group of world-class
mountaineers unfurled Putin's portrait at 4,150 metres (13,615
feet) atop one of the highest peaks in Russia's North Caucasus.
"We have stuck Putin's portrait on a rock wall we see as
unbreakable and eternal as Putin," Kazbek Khamitsayev, who led
the difficult climb up the icy peak, told Reuters.
"This is our present... From the bottom of our hearts we
celebrate him who has done so many courageous things for our
country and is a strong guarantor of happiness and stability."
The relatively unknown Putin built his political career more
than a decade ago by reimposing Moscow's rule in the Caucasus
region's secessionist Chechnya province.
Even though Putin is at an age at which he can collect his
pension, many of the tributes played to his image as a sex
symbol - one in five Russian women say they would be happy to
marry him in a Levada Centre poll released on Friday.
The Young Guard video included young women in tight-fitting
costumes anxiously checking their cell phones and staring
longingly at portraits of Putin.
They re-enact the former KGB spy's macho stunts such as
scuba diving, flying a fighter jet, playing hockey and galloping
through a field. Each woman smiles as she receives a text
message, promising "I'll be there soon." The clip ends with them
cheering as a car presumably containing Putin pulls up.
In St. Petersburg, Putin's hometown, a VIP concert was
planned while around 200 Kremlin supporters turned out for a
"Pull-up for Putin" competition in Moscow. Other activists held
a poetry reading and a Putin-themed evening at a nightclub.
Anti-Putin activists marked the day in a rather different
style, including at the protest near Red Square where
demonstrators brought mocking gifts suitable for a pensioner.
One activist was arrested mid-sentence when she unwrapped an
enema and began reading Putin a birthday card. Another held up
prison-stripe pyjamas marked with Putin's name.
"It's past time for him to retire," said Yevgeny Vasiliyev,
62, a pensioner himself.
After 12 years as Russia's paramount leader, Putin's ratings
are down from their peak during the oil-fuelled economic boom of
his first presidency from 2000 until 2008.
In August the independent Levada polling group said 48
percent of Russians had a positive view of him compared to 60
percent in May when he began a new six-year term, though that is
higher than that enjoyed by most Western politicians.