Russian President Vladimir Putin took to the ice Wednesday to celebrate his 63rd birthday as Russian airstrikes continued in Syria and fears over increased Russian military involvement there grew. Putin has become known for his photo opportunity stunts, including riding shirtless on a horse and diving for ancient treasures.
Putin played ice hockey with players from the NHL as well as Russian officials and businessmen in Sochi, the site of the most recent Winter Olympics, the Associated Press reported. Some of the officials present have been subjected to sanctions over Russia’s role in the annexation of Crimea in March 2014 and its backing of separatists in eastern Ukraine. The match was broadcast on Russian television, and Russian media reported that Putin scored seven goals.
— Р-Спорт (@rsportru) October 7, 2015
World leaders tweeted out birthday wishes to Putin, with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi praying for the Russian leader’s “long life.” Putin has long received bizarre gifts for his birthday, ranging from a tiger to an erotic calendar.
Greetings on your birthday, President Putin. I pray for your long life, good health & happiness. @KremlinRussia_E
— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) October 7, 2015
Russian media reported that the heads of state of both Armenia and Azerbaijan had called Putin to wish him well. On his birthday last year, Putin was reportedly in the Siberian wilderness.
Before hitting the ice, Putin received a briefing from Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu about Russia’s current military operations in Syria. Russia continued its military intervention in Syria Wednesday with the launch of 26 cruise missiles from four of its ships in the Caspian Sea, the New York Times reported. Russian officials did not state which targets were hit.
Putin has backed the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad while the U.S. has called for his removal from power. American officials have questioned Russian targets in Syria, saying the airstrikes were not all aimed at the Islamic State militant group and that some had hit opposition forces. Syrian ground forces began an offensive Wednesday and reports surfaced that Russia was sending military trucks to Syria.