From Rat To Bear To Rabbit: How Russians See Putin In The Animal Kingdom

As the ruble nosedives and Russia chokes on Western sanctions, the president --once compared to a bear or bull -- now looks smaller to his countrymen in an unusual recurring survey.

Vladimir Putin and his labrador Koni
Vladimir Putin and his labrador Koni
Wacław Radziwinowicz

MOSCOW — The impressive popularity of Russian President Vladimir Putin in his home country seems to be taking on a new, um, face. A recent survey by a famous Russian sociologist revealed that Putin, often described by citizens and Russian media alike as "the Russian bear," has recently been evoking smaller species, no doubt because of the country's latest economic and political difficulties, experts say.

Over his lifetime, the Russian president has undergone an interesting sort of zoological evolution, representing a different animal during each stage of his political career.

As a KGB officer in Dresden, he was nicknamed Кrysionok or "small rat." After the fall of the Berlin Wall, Putin returned to his native St. Petersburg, where he entered the city's administration service. It was then that his colleagues nicknamed him "mole" because, as the legend goes, he was once caught in his lover's closet by the woman's husband.

The fall of 1999 saw him as the prime minister who was preparing to pounce on the president's office. Though Russian satirists nicknamed the Kremlin grey eminence the "ugly duckling," the power of the office did wonders for his metamorphosis as a virile, breathtaking leader, especially among Russian women.

In several sociological surveys asking respondents to match Putin with an animal, Russians have cited the eagle, lion, tiger and bear. Among female respondents, bull has been a common choice over the years.

The eyes of the tiger? — Photo: thierry ehrmann

Bear seems to be the president's favorite, and he often compares Russia to the mighty predator that "will not give up on his taiga." Putin brought up this allegory during his three-hour press conference in October 2014. Referring to what was then the latest geopolitical situation, he warned that mother taiga saw other predators invading its territory. The unwanted intruders, he noted, would like to pull the bear's teeth and claws.

But even the Kremlin's greatest supporters can't ignore the fact that the country has hit troubled waters. As the ruble nosedives and its enemies strangle Russia with sanctions, Russians are starting to think of Putin in less grandiose ways. The most recent survey conducted by the Moscow-based think tank Center for Strategic Research showed that Russians associate Putin these days with the wolf, lynx, fox or even the rabbit.

Though the Russian president's popularity is at 80%, it is fueled primarily by the lack of alternatives. Asked in the latest survey to justify their support for Putin, people tended to write, "If not him, then who?" It is a significantly different result than those in previous years when people tended to enumerate Putin's strengths.

Whereas the vast majority or Russians accept and support the country's international politics, many are unhappy with the state of domestic affairs. Many respondents said they didn't believe what they saw on pro-government channels. The strategy of official propaganda no longer delivers.

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In Argentina, A Visit To World's Highest Solar Energy Park

With loans and solar panels from China, the massive solar park has been opened a year and is already powering the surrounding areas. Now the Chinese supplier is pushing for an expansion.

960,000 solar panels have been installed at the Cauchari park

Silvia Naishtat

CAUCHARI — Driving across the border with Chile into the northwest Argentine department of Susques, you may spot what looks like a black mass in the distance. Arriving at a 4,000-meter altitude in the municipality of Cauchari, what comes into view instead is an assembly of 960,000 solar panels. It is the world's highest photovoltaic (PV) park, which is also the second biggest solar energy facility in Latin America, after Mexico's Aguascalientes plant.

Spread over 800 hectares in an arid landscape, the Cauchari park has been operating for a year, and has so far turned sunshine into 315 megawatts of electricity, enough to power the local provincial capital of Jujuy through the national grid.

It has also generated some $50 million for the province, which Governor Gerardo Morales has allocated to building 239 schools.

Abundant sunshine, low temperatures

The physicist Martín Albornoz says Cauchari, which means "link to the sun," is exposed to the best solar radiation anywhere. The area has 260 days of sunshine, with no smog and relatively low temperatures, which helps keep the panels in optimal conditions.

Its construction began with a loan of more than $331 million from China's Eximbank, which allowed the purchase of panels made in Shanghai. They arrived in Buenos Aires in 2,500 containers and were later trucked a considerable distance to the site in Cauchari . This was a titanic project that required 1,200 builders and 10-ton cranes, but will save some 780,000 tons of CO2 emissions a year.

It is now run by 60 technicians. Its panels, with a 25-year guarantee, follow the sun's path and are cleaned twice a year. The plant is expected to have a service life of 40 years. Its choice of location was based on power lines traced in the 1990s to export power to Chile, now fed by the park.

Chinese engineers working in an office at the Cauchari park


Chinese want to expand

The plant belongs to the public-sector firm Jemse (Jujuy Energía y Minería), created in 2011 by the province's then governor Eduardo Fellner. Jemse's president, Felipe Albornoz, says that once Chinese credits are repaid in 20 years, Cauchari will earn the province $600 million.

The Argentine Energy ministry must now decide on the park's proposed expansion. The Chinese would pay in $200 million, which will help install 400,000 additional panels and generate enough power for the entire province of Jujuy.

The park's CEO, Guillermo Hoerth, observes that state policies are key to turning Jujuy into a green province. "We must change the production model. The world is rapidly cutting fossil fuel emissions. This is a great opportunity," Hoerth says.

The province's energy chief, Mario Pizarro, says in turn that Susques and three other provincial districts are already self-sufficient with clean energy, and three other districts would soon follow.

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