A shirt with an image of Russian President Vladimir Putin on a rack placed at GUM department store in Moscow on Monday. (Alexander Zemlianichenko/Associated Press)

MOSCOW — As diplomatic tensions singe Russia’s relationship with the West, patriotism is making a new fashion statement in Moscow.

On Monday evening, Russians lined up in the upscale GUM shopping mall on Red Square to purchase the latest threads of national pride: sweatshirts and other garments featuring the likeness of Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, sporting military and hockey gear, hugging puppies and leopards, and warning that the former KGB intelligence officer is presently reading your thoughts.


Salesman show sweatshirts carrying images of Russian President Vladimir Putin in the GUM department store in Moscow on Monday. (Yuri Kochetkov/European Pressphoto Agency)

The sale was timed to coincide with Putin’s 62nd birthday, which fell Tuesday. But it is hardly the latest display of Russian pride – or anger toward the United States – to hit the garment rack since relations between Russia and the West began to sour over the Ukraine crisis.

Two weeks ago, a pair of women launched a campaign calling on Russians to trade in shirts displaying Western insignias and slogans in exchange for more “patriotic” clothing, bearing some fairly ungloved anti-Western messages.


Advertisements in Moscow announce a T-shirt exchange. "Exchange a T-shirt for a patriotic one!" announces the sign, featuring shirts with various anti-Western slogans. (Karoun Demirjian/The Washington Post)

Backed by some large corporations – including a major Moscow airport – the “Fashionable Answer – No to Sanctions!” campaign posted advertisements, held public gatherings for the shirt swaps and claimed it successfully swapped 30,000 “patriotic” T-shirts for Western T-shirts in just one week.

That’s 30,000 fewer shirts on the streets of Russia with Western flag or product symbols; they are now replaced by shirts bearing messages such as: “Topol [as in Topol missiles] isn’t afraid of sanctions,”  “Sanctions? Don’t make my Iskander [as in Iskander missiles]  laugh,”  and “We have our fun without your Coca Cola.”

(Coca Cola, incidentally, is still widely available in Russia. It’s fresh fruits, vegetables, meat, dairy and fish from the West that have been banned.)

The patriotic T-shirt campaign was so popular that the designers have had to temporarily suspend their campaign to print new ones, they wrote on Facebook last week.


People queue to choose shirts with an image of Russian President Vladimir Putin at the GUM department store  in Moscow on Monday. (Alexander Zemlianichenko/Associated Press)

Meanwhile, casual pro-Putin regalia is widely available and being marketed both toward Russians as well as tourists, who can pick up their very own Putin “futbolka” (that’s Russian for T-shirt) in countless souvenir and tchotchke stores in and around the city.

His country's economy may be struggling due to sanctions, but Russian President Vladimir Putin's popularity has never been higher. (Reuters)