The president of Turkmenistan is no dummy.
He has to be nice to Russian President Vladimir Putin. There are outstanding issues between the two countries. Russia dominates over smaller countries like Turkmenistan in the region, especially its former Soviet states.
To show his displeasure, Putin shut down the lucrative natural gas reserve industry in Turkmenistan last year, all but killing the business over a pricing dispute.
Little wonder Gurbandguly Berdymukhammedov, a former dentist turned politician, wanted to give Putin something that would make him smile.
During a meeting in Sochi, as the cameras were rolling Berdymukhammedov presented Putin with a present saying:
We have a common friend,” Berdymukhammedov told Putin, according to the New York Times. “This is the world’s unique alabai dog. And today I brought this little alabai with me.”
Then as the compliant puppy made no objection, the president hoisted the mottled dog up by the back of its neck. The rare breed is known as the central Asian shepherd.
Putin hugged the puppy close to his chest and planted a kiss on the dog’s head. The alabia was intended as a belated birthday gift for Putin, explained the Turkmenistan president.
The dog was named “Verny” which means “faithful in Russian.
This is the fourth time a diplomat or head of state has presented Putin, a well-known dog lover, with a critter.
Putin’s affection for animals often has a strategic undertone, according to the Washington Post.
It’s not only dogs. Over the years, the Russian leader had been photographed with a zoo-load of critters, from a polar bear to Siberian tigers to dolphins.
“Putin is very much at home with these animals,” Burdett Loomis, a professor of political science at the University of Kansas, told The Washington Post in 2014. “He knows that they are great for photo opportunities.”
In the same article, Jan Kubik, then-chair at the department of political science at Rutgers University, told The Post the Russian leader could “be saying: ‘I love animals. So, I am not such a heartless dictator, as the Westerners tend to think,’ ” while also distinguishing ” ‘I have a heart, but my love is tough, manly.’ ”
In terms of policy, Putin’s government has not always been pet-friendly. Memorably, in 2014, during the lead-up to the Winter Olympics in Sochi, government officials ordered exterminators to round up and kill hundreds of stay dogs running loose in the resort town.
Yet Putin’s pet dogs are the most visible animals associated with the leader. The best-known of the pack, Koni, was a black Labrador retriever given to Putin by Sergey Shoigu, a Russian general and minister of defense, in 2000.
“As far as bad moods go,” Putin said once, according to CNN, “of course I have them like any other person, but in those cases I try to consult with my dog Koni — she gives me good advice.”
The dog’s pedigree actually had symbolic weight in relation to Russian history: Koni was bred at a government center where search and rescue animals were trained, and the dog’s lineage also traced back to animals owned by Leonid Brezhnev, the former head of the Soviet Union, Psychology Today reported.
Putin also famously used dogs as an intimidation factor bringing out his black lab during a meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel who has a known aversion to dogs.