Birthday wishes ... police detain a man wearing a Pussy Riot balaclava as demonstrators in Moscow called for Vladimir Putin to retire on his 60th birthday.

Birthday wishes ... police detain a man wearing a Pussy Riot balaclava as demonstrators in Moscow called for Vladimir Putin to retire on his 60th birthday. Photo: Ilya Epishkin/AFP

The Russian President, Vladimir Putin, has commended the two-year sentence handed to three members of the feminist punk band Pussy Riot for staging a performance protesting against his rule.

"It was right to arrest them, and it was right that the court took the decision that it did," Mr Putin said in on NTV channel, the Interfax news agency reported.

The program was due to air in Moscow late on Sunday but was shown to audiences in the Russian far east in the morning.

Puppy lover ... Vladimir Putin is depicted in a poster at an exhibition by the artist Alexey Sergienko  to mark the president's birthday.

Animal lover ... Vladimir Putin is depicted in a poster at an exhibition by the artist Alexey Sergienko to mark the president's birthday. Photo: Sergei Karpukhin/Reuters

"One cannot undermine the moral foundations, break-up the country. What would we be left with?" Mr Putin reportedly said of the Pussy Riot performance.

He insisted he had exerted no pressure in the women's sentencing. "I had nothing to do with it. They wanted it, and they got it," Mr Putin was quoted as saying.

Donning brightly coloured balaclavas, the group of women on February 21 belted out a "prayer" in the country's main cathedral, Christ the Saviour, calling on the Virgin Mary to remove Putin.

Remembrance ... The founder of the Russian rights group Memorial, Svetlana Gannushkina, holds a portrait of Anna Politkovskaya at the Moscow rally to mark the journalist's murder.

Remembrance ... The founder of the Russian rights group Memorial, Svetlana Gannushkina, holds a portrait of Anna Politkovskaya at the Moscow rally to mark the journalist's murder. Photo: Evgeny Feldman/AFP

Three Pussy Riot members, Maria Alyokhina, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Yekaterina Samutsevich, were convicted of hooliganism motivated by religious hatred in August, and were sentenced to two years. They are waiting for a Moscow court to hear their appeal.

Mr Putin celebrated his 60th birthday on Sunday, receiving warm wishes from supporters and numerous mentions on state TV, but derision from critics who since late last year have held regular mass protests against him.

About 200 people rallied in Moscow yesterday to mark the sixth anniversary of the unsolved murder of the crusading reporter Anna Politkovskaya, which fell on the same day as Mr Putin's birthday.

Participants held up candles and pictures of the journalist and spoke in remembrance of the sharp critic of Kremlin policies in Chechnya, who was shot inside her Moscow apartment building in 2006.

The meeting, attended by numerous opposition figures, was unusual in that had received official approval from city authorities.

The US State Department said it would "continue to shine the spotlight on [Politkovskaya's] case" and urged more protection for journalists who speak out against abuses.

The rights organisation RAW in WAR, which annually recognises achievements by women reporting in conflict zones, demanded Russia bring to justice the killers of Politkovskaya and Natalia Estemirova, a rights activist in Chechnya murdered in 2009.

"We call again on the Russian government . . . to end the killings and persecution of journalists and human rights defenders in the Russian Federation," said the group's statement, which was signed by a committee including dozens of international activists and public figures.

A majority of Russians rated Mr Putin's rule "more good than bad" more than 12 years after he first became the country's leader, an opinion poll showed.

Sixty-four per cent of Russians were positive about the Putin era, said the state-run All-Russia Centre for the Study of Public Opinion. Fourteen per cent said Putin's regime was bad for Russia.

Mr Putin reclaimed the presidency for a six-year term in May after a constitutional rule forced him into a stint as prime minister from 2008. He faced the biggest protests against his rule when tens of thousands of Russians demonstrated against alleged fraud in parliamentary elections in December and the presidential balloting in March.

"I'm sure he would have had more than 80 per cent of Russians supporting his era in 2008," the centre's head, Valery Fedorov, said. "But that was another era. The new one is just starting. And it's about people being massively unhappy with the state."

Fifty-two per cent of the 1600 respondents said "people started living better" since Putin came to power in 2000, while 14 per cent said life had not improved since then.

Agence France-Presse, Associated Press, Bloomberg