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Is Tajik Singer Putin Fan Or Kremlin's Man?

Tolibjon Kurbankhanov -- Vladimir Putin's biggest fan?
Tolibjon Kurbankhanov -- Vladimir Putin's biggest fan?
By all appearances, Tolibjon Kurbankhanov just never tires of singing Vladimir Putin's praise.

The Tajik singer and die-hard Putin fan is back with yet another video clip acclaiming the Russian leader and titled "Happy Birthday, Mr. President."

The song, the third Kurbankhanov has devoted to his Kremlin muse this year, is fuelling suspicion the singer either entertains an unhealthy obsession with Putin or is on the Kremlin payroll.

But Kurbankhanov says he is simply an ardent admirer of Vladimir Putin. "We all have a hero in our soul. Without this, life has no meaning. We all need to emulate someone and follow a goal," he tells RFE/RL from his home in Dushanbe, the Tajik capital.

In the new clip, shot in Putin's native St. Petersburg, the singer calls on Russians to celebrate the president's birthday on October 7 instead of attending opposition rallies planned for the same day.

"Happy birthday Mr. President, I congratulate you Mr. President, happy jubilee Mr. President," he croons against the backdrop of St. Petersburg's most famous landmarks.

"Respect for the leader of our country is respect for Mother Russia," he adds, peering earnestly into the camera.

Down With VVP

Kurbankhanov's first song "VVP," short for Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin, was released shortly before the March 4 election that ushered Putin back into the Kremlin for a third presidential term.

The lyrics described Putin as a savior sent by God to rescue Russia from post-Soviet chaos. The clip quickly went viral on the Internet and lifted Kurbankhanov from complete obscurity.

A second ode to Putin was released ahead of his May inauguration. "I just want to support him with my songs, because he did a lot for Russia," Kurbankhanov says. "He raised a bankrupt country and made it into a giant in the spheres of economics, politics, and defense, in a very short time."

Some observers have suggested the songs could be a bizarre hoax by Putin's PR team to woo minority voters.

Kurbankhanov's lofty sentiments, however, have not struck much of a chord on the Russian Internet. Instead, they have generated a barrage of jokes and angered many Tajiks opposed to Putin's recent moves to tighten immigration laws.

RFE/RL has been declared an "undesirable organization" by the Russian government.

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