MOSCOW (Reuters Life!) - Bare-breasted women, celebrities and club promoters threw their support behind Prime Minister Vladimir Putin at a lavish party for the country's paramount leader, a year before presidential elections.
Around 2,000 revelers streamed into trendy Moscow nightclub Rai, which means "paradise" in Russian, for Sunday night's "Putin Party" to celebrate the macho prime minister, who has hinted that he could run for president again in 2012.
"This is for Vladimir Vladimirovich (Putin), who is the coolest, the most respected man in all of Russia," organizer Andreas Lobzhanidze, clad in a pink shirt with Putin's picture on it framed by flowers, shouted to the crowd.
Striptease dancers writhed with signs saying "I want the prime minister" as an electronic rendition of "Blueberry Hill" blasted out a song now associated in Russia with Putin, after he belted out the classic at a charity event in December.
Independent polls show approval by Russians for Putin is around 70 percent, the same as that for President Dmitry Medvedev, whom Putin steered into the Kremlin three years ago.
The pair say they run the country as a tandem, though Putin -- who ruled as president from 2000-2008 -- is considered Russia's most powerful man.
Lobzhanidze said Putin was to be thanked for successfully securing the rights to host the Winter Olympics and Russia's first Formula One race, both in 2014, and the 2018 World Cup.
"We got them all!" he screamed to huge applause, while women acrobatically twirled in huge plastic balls suspended from the ceiling, which was decorated with large Russian flags.
Promoters said the party was to merely celebrate Putin -- whose face wearing sunglasses was depicted on waiters' t-shirts -- and not to ask him to run for president again.
"He's just so great. He is closer to the Russian people than any leader has ever been," pop singer and stylist Sergei Zverev told Reuters.
Behind him, young women poked their faces through a cardboard cut-out of a woman astride a motorbike with Putin.
Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov could not be reached for comment Monday, but he previously told the Russian media that the prime minister's image could not be used for commercial purposes, and that the nightclub had not sought permission to do this.
"It's a pretty cool idea to have a party for Putin. Why not? He is so popular, so it makes sense," said 22-year-old pharmacist Yulia who was at the party.
Reporting by Amie Ferris-Rotman, editing by Paul Casciato