x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Putin turns 60, still in charge but no longer invincible

MOSCOW // The Russian president, Vladimir Putin, turns 60 today, his grip on power weaker than in the past but under little immediate threat if the price of oil stays high.

Adoring supporters will celebrate in cities from Siberia to Rostov-on-Don in southern Russia, where the ruling party's loyal Young Guard will unfurl a banner on a bridge that they say symbolises Mr Putin's role by uniting Asia and Europe.

Opponents will make their feelings known much closer to home, protesting near Moscow's Red Square under the banner: "We're sending the old man into retirement."

The organisers plan to send their own symbolic message by asking protesters to bring gifts suitable for a pensioner - anything, perhaps, from reading glasses to a pipe.

The man himself will be relaxing with his close family and plans no special celebrations, a Kremlin spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said. Just a few months into a third term as president, he may be reaching retirement age, but has no plans to retire.

After 12 years as Russia's paramount leader, opinion polls show Mr Putin enjoys higher ratings than most western politicians, but they 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 per cent of Russians had a positive view of him compared with 60 per cent in May when he began a new six-year term.

But a poll published last week showed one in five Russian women would still be happy to marry him, even though he is about to reach an age at which he can collect his pension.

"Age doesn't matter in what Vladimir Putin does or does not do," said Konstantin von Eggert, a political commentator, adding that Mr Putin's views had changed little since he came to power.

* Agence France-Presse