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Monday, 7 October, 2002, 11:00 GMT 12:00 UK
Putin hits 50
Russian President Vladimir Putin
Putin is keen to avoid a big fuss

Russian President Vladimir Putin is celebrating his 50th birthday away from his homeland.

Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin
Moldova's president may offer Putin a horse
He is attending a summit meeting of leaders from the Commonwealth of Independent States, taking place in the Moldovan capital Chisinau.

The Kremlin has been keen to play down the birthday celebrations for fear of sparking criticism that it is encouraging a cult of personality.

So, what would you give the leader of one of the world's most powerful nations for his 50th birthday?

That's the question that Russians have been pondering in the run-up to Mr Putin's big day.

Flattery

And they have come up with some inventive solutions, such as this one from the Russian Association of Jewellers: a replica of the coronation crown of the tsars.

Hardly practical, but extremely flattering, which is - after all - the whole point if you're giving a gift to a Russian president.

Then from a local official on the Baltic coast comes an ostrich egg bearing a Putin portrait.

And then there's the small matter of 10,000 birthday cards sent by children across the country - with a little help, that is, from a pro-presidential party.

Putin cult?

And at the CIS summit, the Molodovan president has said he will present Mr Putin with a horse.

Mr Putin's absence from Russia is - perhaps - an attempt to play down the whole occasion.

The Kremlin has been keen to avoid a big fuss, acutely aware that there has already been enough talk as it is of a Putin personality cult.

The Russian president has had cafes, ice-creams and tomatoes named after him, and a 50th birthday is a golden opportunity for another potentially embarrassing outpouring of public affection.

Mr Putin's critics, though, believe the Russian president secretly enjoys the public displays of affection - and they warn that, with open opposition to the Kremlin becoming increasingly rare, all the praise and presents may soon go to Mr Putin's head.

"There is a danger," political commentator Vladimir Pozner told me.

"And the danger is with the people around Putin who fawn, and the sycophants - of which there are many.

"Because if you keep telling a man day in day out he's the most brilliant wonderful soul they've ever met, eventually the man begins to believe it!"

See also:

06 Aug 02 | Europe
31 Aug 02 | Media reports
23 Aug 02 | Europe
11 Jul 02 | Europe
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