By Dan Peleschuk
KYIV, Ukraine — Stirring trouble abroad is no easy business, even for macho man Vladimir Putin.
So it’s only fair that the Russian president took a moment to enjoy his birthday on Wednesday, with activities that — incidentally, we’re sure — offered plenty of photo ops.
Here’s a quick look at how Putin spent his 63rd.
Russian planes have spent the last week conducting airstrikes in Syria. Putin’s government insists those bombs are meant to kill the Islamic State. But Syrian opposition activists and American officials claim the planes are really hitting other rebel groups, and unarmed civilians, in a mission to support Putin ally Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
The bombing campaign has been backed up by generous, Kremlin-friendly media coverage casting Moscow’s mission in the Middle East as a brave quest to save an embattled and legitimate government.
An even grander show came on Wednesday, after the Russian navy joined the air force in launching strikes. Russian warships launched more than two dozen cruise missiles into Syria from some 900 miles away in the Caspian Sea:
Russia’s Defense Ministry released official images of its navy bombarding targets in Syria from the Caspian Sea.
Some observers saw that as a clear message — one that Putin has sought to convey many times before.
“Sea-launched cruise missiles have long been a favourite U.S. weapon of choice in interventions overseas,” BBC defense correspondent Jonathan Marcus reported Wednesday, “so there may be an element of Russia demonstrating that it has the full military panoply of any other ‘superpower.’”
Vlad on ice
Shortly after Russian rockets hit targets in Syria, Putin hit the ice in Sochi as part of a nationally broadcast hockey match featuring Russian NHL stars and some of his closest political cronies.
And as you might have guessed, the former KGB agent easily netted seven goals and led his team to a 15-10 victory.
Putin scores double hat trick to lead team to 15-10 win at b-day hockey match. Not bad stats after 8 goals last time pic.twitter.com/gfMh11pPqn
— Alec Luhn (@ASLuhn) October 7, 2015
Putin has always trumpeted physical fitness and a healthy lifestyle. That’s probably why he delivered a heart-warming address to a roaring crowd inside the stadium promoting the virtues of sport.
“He who moves forward and strives toward victory will surely achieve it,” Putin said, eliciting wild cheers.
“My best friend is President Putin”
Then there’s Putin the Pop Icon — at least according to one of Russia’s most popular rappers.
The famously pro-Kremlin artist, nicknamed Timati, released a music video on the eve of Putin’s big day titled “Best Friend,” a catchy little number that extols the Russian leader and his sky-high approval ratings.
The chorus? “My best friend is President Putin.”
Filmed partly on Red Square, the sleek and well-produced video even features dancers wearing Putin masks, with Timati and another rapper performing in front of a giant Putin mural.
Here’s another snippet from the song: “We’re rolling smooth, he’s the chief, which means everything will go according to plan.”