Police in Moscow moved to break up opponents of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin on the eve of his 59th birthday. They were there to remember a former senior executive of the oil giant Yukos, who died after being arrested on embezzlement charges.
There was a different mood at a rally by young Putin supporters – many of whom were students at Moscow university. They chanted adoring slogans for the action-man leader who is widely expected to be re-elected president next year.
One supporter said: “We wish him success in life, that he has good health and that everything is positive.”
Putin has carefully groomed his macho image.
If re-elected he could be on course to become the country’s longest serving leader but analysts have warned his bid to return to the presidency has engendered a backlash among Russia’s intellectuals and middle-class.