Fur flies over Russian PM's unbearable forest jaunt
Tuesday 04 February 1997
But Viktor Chernomyrdin, the Prime Minister, seems to have gone too far. Even Russia, with its fondness for furs and fighting dogs, has been shaken by revelations about a hunting expedition in which two bear cubs and their mother were goaded out of hibernation and shot dead - one of the cubs falling to a bullet from the Prime Minister's rifle.
Hunting is traditionally regarded by Russian men as a means of showing the world that they are muzhiki - no-nonsense, guys' guys. But Mr Chernomyrdin is emerging from his visit to the forests of Yaroslavl, north of Moscow, with less of a red neck than a red face.
Details have emerged in two publications, Ogonyok magazine and Novaya Gazeta newspaper. Mr Chernomyrdin, long caricatured as a dreary bureaucrat, fuelled the scandal by admitting the bears were shot, disputing only their age and size.
If the papers are to be believed, the preparations for the hunt rivalled those of a production at the Bolshoi Theatre. Bulldozers reportedly ploughed a mile-and-a-half-long road through the forest to a bear den and mowed down a clearing for a helicopter landing pad.
The woods were swamped by armed agents of the Russian Federal Security Service, successors to the KGB. Mr Chernomyrdin and his hosts, accompanied by bodyguards and professional hunters swept on to the scene in a convoy of Volga cars, accompanied by a mobile dining room and kitchen. An ambulance was also on hand.
The Prime Minister's host, the governor of Yaroslavl, appears to have been anxious that they should enjoy a fruitful day, not least because the point of inviting him was to persuade the government settle an enormous debt to the region.
In Brezhnev's time, aides would release wild boar in front of the muzzle of his gun. They even tied them to trees on days when their leader's aim was particularly unreliable. When the old man's fancy turned to rabbits, his bodyguards would release animals in the nearby woods in such quantities that he was certain eventually to hit one of them as they hopped and nibbled in his field of range.
The Chernomyrdin hunt seems not to have matched Brezhnev's standards - but almost did. The hunters took their positions, but no bears emerged. A pack of dogs was reportedly sent in to arouse the animals from their hibernation. Still no bears. Only after the hunters poked inside the den with sticks did a cub stagger out into the snow, to receive a bullet between the eyes, courtesy of the honoured guest. According to the newspapers, the second cub was killed by the governor, while their mother went down in a hail of bullets.
In Russia, killing adult bears causes little outrage. But cubs are a different matter. The government "should be ashamed, before the people, before God, before their own consciences", thundered Novaya Gazeta. Ogonyok called it "akin to common murder".
Mr Chernomyrdin has defended his conduct. "I do not know why there is all this clamour," he told the TV current affairs programme Itogi. "When the bear is in the den, are we supposed to peek in first?
"There was a she-bear and two cubs, but they were grown up," he said. "I would like the journalists who wrote these [stories] to have a face- to-face encounter with these cubs, not in the office, but somewhere else. I would enjoy watching that." It is, however, too late. One of the cubs has been stuffed. The other was lunch for the hungry hunters.
- 2 Company breaks open Apple Watch to discover what it says is 'planned obsolescence'
- 4 The most powerful passports in the world
- 5 Chinese student carries disabled friend to school every day for three years
Nepal earthquake: How you can help victims of the Kathmandu disaster
Nepal earthquake in pictures: Photos show devastation caused by 7.8 magnitude earthquake
Royal baby: Live updates as superbug closes ward at St Mary's Hospital in London where Duchess of Cambridge is due to give birth
Teaching profession headed for crisis as numbers continue to drop and working lives become 'unbearable'
General Election 2015: The photo of a tree that proves the Tories have an image problem
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
The sickening truth about food banks that the Tories don't want you to know
Migrant boat disaster: Ukip candidate mocks victims in sickening Twitter post
Nigel Farage wants the BBC to stop making programmes like Doctor Who, Strictly Come Dancing, and Top Gear
Global warming: Scientists say temperatures could rise by 6C by 2100 and call for action ahead of UN meeting in Paris
General Election 2015: Britain would become a 'communist dictatorship' under Ed Miliband and Nicola Sturgeon, claims wife of Michael Gove
£26000 - £28000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistan...
£24000 - £26000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...
£22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...
£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...