Published41 minutes ago
A tractor is one of the odder gifts for Vladimir Putin, as Russia’s president, a pariah in the West since his invasion of Ukraine, turns 70.
It was given him by his Belarusian ally, Alexander Lukashenko, whose country boasts a tractor works.
Mr Lukashenko confirmed the news as he visited his fellow strongman’s home city, St Petersburg, for talks.
Mr Putin was hosting other leaders of ex-Soviet states as the war fanned by his invasion raged.
Faced with successful Ukrainian counter-attacks, he hinted at problems this week, describing the situation in regions he recently annexed as “restive”.
But on Friday, his allies lavished praise and gifts on the man who has led Russia, whether as president or prime minister, for more than two decades.
Mr Lukashenko, Europe’s self-styled “last dictator” who has been in power even longer than the Russian leader (since 1994) and whose administration is also under Western sanctions, came to St Petersburg with a gift certificate for the Belarusian-made vehicle.
The Minsk Tractor Works is the flagship of Belarusian industry.
It was not immediately clear how Mr Putin responded to the big-wheeled gift, which had to compete with mountains of melons and watermelons from 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
However, it is a fact that Mr Putin has been frequently seen in tractors for some years now.
Along with the gifts came praise for Mr Putin for “transforming the image of Russia, strengthening its sovereignty and its defence capability, and protecting its national interests”, in the words of the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill.
“The number one patriot in the world” was how Ramzan Kadyrov, Chechnya’s Moscow-backed leader, put it.
Further afield, but dealing with similar international isolation, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un congratulated the man in the Kremlin for “crushing the challenges and threats of the United States”.
Mr Putin’s enemies used the occasion of his birthday again to depict him as a war criminal trying to destroy another country while ruining his own.
Ukrainian Defence Minister Oleksii Reznikov called on Russia’s military to reject him and refuse to fight his war, saying Mr Putin was “hiding in a bunker rather than standing” with his soldiers.
Some social media users noted the irony of Mr Lukashenko’s gift to Mr 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 the Czech capital, Prague, demonstrators mocked Russia’s president with a giant dummy depicting him as a naked emperor sitting on a golden toilet.