‘God put you in power’, Putin told by Russian Orthodox leader on 70th birthday
- Fawning congratulations from subordinates and a plea from Patriarch Kirill to pray for the health of the longest serving leader of Russia since Joseph Stalin
- Putin faces the biggest challenge of his rule after the invasion of Ukraine triggered the gravest confrontation with the West since 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis
The head of the Russian Orthodox Church Patriarch Kirill said on Friday that Vladimir Putin’s reign over Russia had been mandated by God, congratulating the Kremlin chief on his 70th birthday.
“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.
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 president 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.
Kirill also wished him “unrelenting strength and God’s abundant assistance”.
The leader of the Russian Orthodox Church since 2009, Kirill has been a vocal supporter of the military operation in Ukraine.
He has close ties with Putin’s government, backing conservative values over Western liberalism.
Putin, who rose to the Kremlin’s top job on the last day of 1999, is facing the biggest challenge of his rule after the invasion of Ukraine triggered the gravest confrontation with the West since the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis.
On his birthday, Putin is due to attend an informal summit of the Commonwealth of Independent States in St Petersburg, the former imperial capital founded by Peter the Great that is his hometown.
Putin, who vowed to end the chaos which gripped Russia after the 1991 fall of the Soviet Union, is facing the most serious war crisis any Kremlin chief has faced for at least a generation since the Afghan war of 1979-89.
Opponents such as jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny say that Putin has led Russia down a dead end towards ruin, building a brittle system of incompetent sycophants that will ultimately collapse and propel Russia into chaos.
Supporters say Putin saved Russia from destruction by an arrogant and aggressive West. They say he has clawed back clout after the humiliations suffered by the Russian elite as the Cold War ended.
But Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has so far floundered.
After more than seven months of war, Russia has suffered huge losses in men and equipment and been beaten back on several fronts within the past month as Putin’s army has lurched from one humiliation to the next.
Putin has resorted to proclaiming the annexation of territories only partly under Russian control – and whose borders the Kremlin has said are yet to be defined – and threatening to defend them with nuclear weapons.
A partial mobilisation declared by the president on September 21 has unfolded so chaotically that even Putin has been forced to admit mistakes and order changes. Hundreds of thousands of men have fled abroad to avoid being called up.
Even normally loyal Kremlin allies have denounced the failings of the military – though they have stopped short, so far, of criticising the president himself.
Reflecting on Putin’s birthday, former Kremlin speech-writer Abbas Gallyamov said: “On an anniversary, it’s customary to sum up results, but the results are so deplorable that it would be better not to draw too much attention to the anniversary.”
Additional reporting by Reuters