- Kremlin leader faces mounting crisis in his war in Ukraine
- Allies pay tribute, but criticism of the military grows
- Patriarch prays for Putin’s health
LONDON, Oct. 7 (Reuters) – President Vladimir Putin turned 70 on Friday amid obsequious congratulations from subordinates and a plea from Orthodox Patriarch Kirill for all to pray for the health of Russia’s longest-serving supreme leader since Josef Stalin .
Putin faces the greatest challenge to his rule after the invasion of Ukraine sparked the worst confrontation with the West since the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962. His military there has been reeling from a string of defeats in the past month.
Officials hailed Putin as the savior of modern Russia, while the Patriarch of Moscow and all of Russia pleaded with the country for two days of special prayer so that God grants Putin “health and longevity.”
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“We pray to you, our Lord God, before the head of the Russian state, Vladimir Vladimirovich, and ask that you grant him your rich grace and generosity, grant him health and longevity, and deliver him from all the resistances of enemies visible and invisible, establish him in wisdom and spiritual strength, for all, Lord, hear and have mercy,” said Kirill.
Putin, who vowed to end the chaos that gripped Russia after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, is facing the worst military crisis a Kremlin chief has faced for at least a generation since the Soviet Union’s collapse. 1979-89 Afghan War.
Opponents like imprisoned opposition leader Alexei Navalny say Putin has led Russia down a dead end, building a fragile system of incompetent sycophants that will eventually collapse and leave chaos.
Supporters say Putin saved Russia from destruction through an arrogant and aggressive West.
“Today our national leader, one of the most influential and remarkable personalities of our time, the number one patriot in the world, President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin turns 70 years old!” So said Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov.
“Putin has changed Russia’s global position and forced the world to consider the position of our great state.”
But the war in Ukraine has forced Putin to burn huge amounts of political, diplomatic and military capital.
More than seven months after the invasion, Russia has suffered massive losses in men and equipment, and has beaten back on several fronts in the past month as Putin’s army lurched from one humiliation to another.
Putin has resorted to declaring the annexation of areas only partially under Russian control — whose borders have yet to be determined, according to the Kremlin — and threatens to defend them with nuclear weapons.
A partial mobilization proclaimed by the president on Sept. 21 has been so chaotic that even Putin has been forced to admit mistakes and make changes. Hundreds of thousands of men have fled abroad to avoid being summoned.
Even normally loyal Kremlin allies have denounced the military’s shortcomings — though so far they’ve stopped criticizing the president himself.
Putin faces a resurgent, unified and expanding NATO despite his insistence that the “special operation” in Ukraine was aimed at enforcing Russia’s “red lines” and preventing the alliance from moving closer to Russian borders .
Signs of unrest have emerged from China and India, on which Russia has increasingly relied as geopolitical and economic partners in the wake of successive waves of Western sanctions.
Reflecting on Putin’s birthday, former Kremlin speechwriter Abbas Gallyamov said: “On a birthday it is customary to list results, but the results are so deplorable that it would be better not to draw too much attention to the birthday.”
Putin has dominated Russia for nearly 23 years since he was chosen by President Boris Yeltsin as his favorite successor in a surprise announcement on New Year’s Eve 1999.
Amendments passed to the constitution in 2020 have paved the way for him to potentially rule until 2036, and there is no clear frontrunner to succeed him.
He maintains a full schedule of meetings and public events and invariably appears to be in control of his assignment, substantiating extensively in videoconferencing on topics ranging from energy to education. The Kremlin denies recurring speculation about alleged health problems.
As he got older, Putin seemed increasingly concerned with his legacy. In June, he compared his actions in Ukraine to Tsar Peter the Great’s campaigns, suggesting that both were engaged in historic quests to reclaim Russian lands.
Putin has grown increasingly fond of quoting Russian philosopher Ivan Ilyin, who argued that Russia had to follow an exceptionally mystical and sacred path that would eventually restore order to an imperfect world.
In a televised meeting with teachers this week, Putin showed keen interest in another episode in history – an 18th-century peasant uprising against Empress Catherine the Great – which he blamed for “the weakness of the country’s central authority”.
From the man who has dominated Russia for more than two decades, it sounded like a lesson had been heeded: Faced with the possibility of rebellion, the ruler must be both strong and vigilant.
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Written by Guy Faulconbridge and Mark Trevelyan; Editing by Andrew Heavens
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