Cuddly and Putin are two words that don't exactly go together. Unless, there's a dog, or some other furry creature, involved.
Russian President Vladimir Putin's love of dogs has been well documented over the years. Photos of Putin with his dogs are almost as prevalent as the long photographic history of him trying to "manly." Who can forget the many shirtless hunting and shirtless horseback riding photos?
And now Putin has a new addition to his furbaby family. On Wednesday, Turkmenistan President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov gave Putin a puppy as a gift for his 65th birthday. The puppy is a Central Asian Shepherd, a native breed that is also known as Alabai.
During the puppy presentation, Berdymukhamedov holds Verny up up the scruff of the neck, his furry body dangling in a way that immediately evokes images of Simba's birth in The Lion King, until Putin stands up and takes his gift. He cradles Verny and then kisses him on his head, before placing him on the ground.
The image, which was circulating across the Internet Wednesday, was almost enough to make you forget—for just a moment—who Putin is, and what he's done (or has been accused of doing). Among the allegations: spying, imprisoning Russian billionaires, murdering opponents, and other nefarious deeds.
But alas, look Putin with a puppy. Maybe he's just misunderstood.
This is not the first time a world leader has presented Putin with a puppy. (Nor is it the first time other world leaders have received them: Leaders of the U.S., U.K., and Germany, among many others, have been gifted animals as part of diplomatic exchanges.)
Bulgaria's premier gave Putin a Bulgarian shepherd named Buffy in 2010. A Japanese official presented Putin with an Akita named Yume in 2012 as a thank you gift for Russia's assistance following the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami.
And who could forget Konni, the black Labrador who was frequently by Putin's side? Russian politician Sergéy Kuzhugétovich Shoygú gave Konni to Putin in 1999. (The canine died in 2014.)
Konni is perhaps Putin's most famous dog because of her role during the president's 2007 meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel at his home in Sochi. Putin called the dog—whose full name was "Connie Paulgrave"—into the room during a meeting with Merkel, who had been bitten once years earlier, was visibly concerned about the animal. The interaction between the two, which the New Yorker recounted in a piece on Merkel years later, provided a glimpse into Putin's particular brand of intimidation.
Of course, puppies are not the only animal that Putin loves. He's also quite taken with cats—specifically big cats like leopards and tigers that are symbols of power.