As President Vladimir Putin turns 60 years old, it appears he is still a hit with the ladies as a new survey reveals one in five Russian women would like to marry him.
The active President, who is often pictured horse riding topless, hand-gliding and driving Formula One race cars, turns 60 tomorrow.
But that doesn’t seem to have had any impact on his charm – with 6% of Russian women saying they “definitely would” marry Vladimir Putin while a further 14% said they probably would.
Just 43% said they “definitely would not” want to walk down the aisle the President, who has ruled the country for 12 years, in the survey by the independent polling station Levada.
But while President Vladimir Putin may still appeal to a high percentage of the female population, it appears that he isn’t as popular with the remaining electorate.
Vladimir Putin has been facing growing pressure as protests continue against Russia’s rigid political system and repressive Kremlin laws that have provoked wide-spread discontent.
Utilities fees and other municipal payments rose during the summer and look set to continue to rise throughout the winter.
Analysts warn that the government would quickly run out of cash to pay wages and pensions if Russia’s energy revenues dry up. Even with the current relatively high oil prices, the Kremlin has been struggling to raise funds for a planned pension reform.
Vladimir Putin has pledged repeatedly to ease Russia’s dependence on energy exports, encourage high-tech industries, create incentives for small and medium business and improve the investment climate.
But oil and gas revenues still account for the bulk of the government budget, while red tape, rampant corruption and courts bowing to official orders have spooked investors and stymied economic development.
Stanislav Belkovsky, a political consultant with past ties to the Kremlin, said: “Putin hasn’t moved a finger to change the economic model established during his 12-year rule, and he can’t be realistically expected to make any changes now.”
During the latest election campaign in March, Vladimir Putin made generous pledges to raise wages and pensions, as well as boost social programs and the military budget.
But even Cabinet officials have acknowledged that his promises can’t be fulfilled without destabilizing the economy – meaning he could face trouble whichever way he turns.
After his inauguration, Vladimir Putin cracked down on his foes with a slew of draconian laws that hiked fines 150-fold for taking part in unauthorized protests, decriminalized slander and required non-government organizations that receive foreign funding to register as foreign agents.
Vladimir Putin has suffered a gradual decline in popularity but he still enjoys majority support largely thanks to the absence of a strong alternative after years of Kremlin efforts to sideline the opposition.
But for now he seems safe in his position and his adoring supporters will come out in their masses to celebrate his birthday tomorrow 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 which they say symbolizes Vladimir 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 organizers 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, 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 Vladimir 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.