From ANIMAL PEOPLE, March 2000:

MOSCOW, WASHINGTON D.C.– – Kremlin-watchers wondered, when former KGB chief Vladimir Putin succeeded Boris Yeltzin as president of Russia, if Putin could develop the political skills of democracy.

They need not have worried. Putin showed on his third day in office that he can craft an image of standing for one thing while doing the other just as well as any American counterpart.

Putin on January 5 vetoed an animal protection bill which had cleared the Russian parliament 273-1, but was opposed by sealers because it would have prohibited seal-killing in order to save the diminutive and fast-vanishing Nerpa seal of landlocked Lake Baikal.

According to Reuters, the bill also would have banned eating pets, harming them in film production, making hats or coats out of dog or cat fur, and “even would have prohibited throwing them out of windows. Offenders faced up to a year of community service or having their wages docked.”

But despite siding with sealers, Putin won wire service descriptions of himself as “an animal-lover who swaps e-mails with Brigitte Bardot,” as Elizabeth Piper of Reuters put it.

I hope that in the new millennium–– thanks to the devotion of people like you–– humankind will be gentler and more courageous,” Putin wrote to Bardot. “That means taking greater care of the weak and defenseless. I think politicians should listen more closely to the alarm signals you are sending.”

Piper, for one, was so taken with Putin’s message to Bardot that she completely forgot to mention his veto of the animal protection bill.

Putin may have realized the importance to politicians of keeping an animal friendly facade from the questions that a radio interviewer asked ex-Russian deputy prime minister Anatoly A. Chubais during a December live broadcast.

According to New York Times writer Michael Wines, the interviewer told Chubais, “There is a widespread attitude that you have ‘done animal experiments,’ that you are a laboratory scientist who does not know what life is, that you have with the cruelty of vivisectors pushed millions of people beyond the poverty line. Why should people vote for you?”

The use of such metaphors in Russian political discourse reflects a tradition of satire perhaps epitomized by the formerly banned 1925 novel Heart of a Dog, by Mikail Bulgakov. As ridiculing the social scientists in political power during Bolshevik and Stalinist times could be fatal, Bulgakov and other commentators ridiculed biomedical scientists who looked like the social scientists, and portrayed “everyman” characters as canine experimental victims.

Politics in the USA

The records of U.S. presidential candidates on animal issues is little more encouraging. Most major conservation organizations rushed to endorse Vice President Albert Gore for the Democratic presidential nomination, because of his 1990 book Earth In The Balance, and his longtime alliance with hunter/conservationists. Friends of the Earth differed, endorsing Bill Bradley for having a significantly better voting record in Congress on water, toxics, and public land issues.

But as the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society reminded voters with a January 27 bulletin entitled “Al Gores whales!,” Gore was instrumental in enabling Norway to resume coastal whaling in 1993 without incurring U.S. sanctions; backed the International Whaling Commission adoption of the “Revised Management Scheme” in 1994, which if accepted would have brought the IWC within one vote of reauthorizing commercial whaling; obstructed an “endangered” listing for the severely depleted belugas of Cook Inlet, Alaska, while the population fell from 1,000 to 150 in ten years; and backed the Makah tribe of western Washington in resuming gray whale hunting.

Bradley does not hunt, but is suspect to anti-vivisectionists for having authored a tax relief bill favorable to the pharmaceutical industry, and he has reputedly avoided having to vote either way on anti-trapping legislation repeatedly introduced by fellow New Jersey Senator Robert Torricelli.

Of the top Republican candidates, John McCain appears to have almost no record on animal issues. Texas Governor George W. Bush, on the other hand, is an enthusiastic hunter who on February 5 received the Safari Club International’s “Governor of the Year” award. 

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