Russian President Vladimir Putin got several unusual gifts for his 70th birthday on Friday, including a brand-new tractor and a mountain of melons.
As the leaders from Armenia, Belarus, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan met at the Czarist-era Konstantin Palace in St. Petersburg, President Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus presented Putin with a gift certificate for a tractor. Tractors have been the pride of Belarusian industry since Soviet times.
Lukashenko, dubbed "Europe's last dictator" – having ruled the ex-Soviet nation with an iron hand for nearly three decades while cultivating a man of the people image – told reporters he uses a similar model in his own garden.
It wasn't clear how the Russian leader responded to the gift, according to Lukashenko's office.
The tractor, however, was not the most bizarre present the Russian president has received, as mountains of melons and watermelons were gifted to him by Tajikistan's president, Emomali Rahmon.
The President of Tajikistan apparently gave President Putin two pyramids of melons pic.twitter.com/ogvnHmzFpn— Will Vernon (@BBCWillVernon) October 7, 2022
Russian officials hailed Putin as the savior of modern Russia while Kirill, the patriarch of Moscow and All Russia, implored the country to say two days of special prayers so that God grants Putin "health and longevity."
"We pray to you, our Lord God, for the head of the Russian State, Vladimir Vladimirovich, and ask you to give him your rich mercy and generosity, grant him health and longevity, and deliver him from all the resistances of visible and invisible enemies. Confirm him in wisdom and spiritual strength, for all; Lord hear and have mercy," he said.
Putin's birthday and Ukraine
Some social media users noted the irony of Lukashenko's gift to Putin: The humble tractor became an early symbol of Ukrainian resistance to the Russian invasion after farmers were seen towing away abandoned military vehicles.
In Ukraine, his birthday was broadly met with condemnations. The Nobel Peace Prize committee, in a pointed message to Putin, gave its award to human rights activists from Belarus, Ukraine and Russia.
Countless memes denounced the Russian president. Some Ukrainian activists urged supporters to donate to provide weapons to the Ukrainian military. And politicians and local leaders lashed out at the Russian leader on social media.
Oleksii Reznikov, Ukraine’s defense minister, in a video directed at Russian officers and commanders on Putin’s birthday, said that there would be no negotiations with the Russian leaders and urged the military leaders to stop their offensive.
A gift in Crimea?
Another gift Ukraine has given Putin is the apparent attack on the Kerch bridge in Crimea, which connects the peninsula with the Russian mainland. The bridge was set ablaze; Ukrainian involvement has not been confirmed.
Images showed a fiercely burning fire engulfing at least two railway carriages from a train on the bridge, accompanied by a vast column of black smoke.
The explosion, which witnesses said could be heard kilometers away, took place around 6 a.m. on Saturday while a train was crossing the bridge, although it was not immediately clear what caused it.