SOCHI, Russia (Reuters) - Russian President Vladimir Putin marked his 63rd birthday on Wednesday in his favorite Black Sea resort of Sochi by taking part in an ice hockey match and holding a briefing on his country’s military campaign in Syria.
State TV showed Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu telling Putin that the Russian military had struck 112 targets in Syria since it began its air campaign last Wednesday, and that cruise missiles had been fired overnight from Russian warships in the Caspian Sea at Islamist militants in Syria.
“That we carried this out from the Caspian Sea at a distance of around 1,500 kilometers (932.06 miles), with high-precision weapons and hit all our targets, reflects of course the good preparation of our military industrial complex,” said Putin.
The Russian leader then took part in an ice hockey match in an arena used in the 2014 Winter Olympics, personally scoring seven goals. Cheered on by the crowd, his team, which included his defense minister and a clutch of ex-NHL stars, won 15-10.
The losing team included old friends of Putin, including some of the wealthiest businessmen in Russia.
The event was the latest of many to show Putin as physically fit and victorious, part of a long-running Kremlin drive to show voters that Putin is the right man to run the country.
Clad in an ice hockey uniform in the colors of the Russian flag, state TV showed Putin addressing spectators and his fellow players in the arena. “He who acts and aims for victory will undoubtedly achieve victory. Good luck everyone!” he said.
Putin’s spokesman said the Russian leader would “modestly” celebrate after the match with his fellow players before probably spending the evening with his friends and loved ones.
“My Best Friend”, a new song by two well-known Russian rappers dedicated to Putin’s birthday and with a video filmed in Moscow’s Red Square quickly drew more than half a million views on YouTube. It praised the Russian leader as a “superhero”.
Putin, in power since 2000, was re-elected president in 2012. He will be eligible in 2018 to stand for another six-year term, which would keep him in office until 2024 if re-elected.
Additional reporting by Gabriela Baczynska; Writing by Andrew Osborn; Editing by Catherine Evans