MOSCOW (AP) Russian President Vladimir Putin spent his 63rd birthday on the ice Wednesday, playing hockey with NHL stars against Russian officials and tycoons.
Putin scored seven goals as his star-studded team, which included NHL legends Vyacheslav Fetisov and Pavel Bure, won the game 15-10. The opposing team included Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu as well as Putin’s close friends – tycoons Gennady Timchenko and Arkady Rotenberg. Both were slapped with Western sanctions last year for their ties to Putin in the wake of Russia’s annexation of Crimea.
Putin was given a trophy for his team’s win at the end of the game and a medal for his contribution to hockey in Russia.
Earlier in the afternoon, Putin was briefed by Shoigu about the Russian air force operation in Syria. As the Russian television began to broadcast dramatic footages of Russian cruise missiles fired from a warship in the Caspian Sea, lighting up the night sky, Putin stepped on the ice of the Shayba arena in Sochi for the game that was broadcase live on Russian television.
Last year, Putin reportedly spent his birthday holed up in the Siberian wilderness far away from populated areas.
In Moscow, Putin’s social media fan club held an exhibition of portraits of Putin as various real and fictional characters, including Che Guevara, Father Christmas, Jupiter and Buddha.
In Grozny, the capital of Chechnya, officials were hosting a soccer game featuring Italian veterans to celebrate Putin’s birthday. The organizers unfurled a banner covering the entire football pitch that read:
“The best president. Happy birthday!”