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Russia’s parliament is locked in rare dispute over bill to ban hunting dog training

The State Duma and Federation Council disagree over a bill to ban ‘baiting stations’ which some call animal cruelty

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(Meduza) – In mid-January, the State Duma created a mediation committee to review draft legislation that would ban “baiting stations,” where hunting dogs are trained to attack leashed wild animals. Co-sponsored by Duma Speaker Vyacheslav Volodin, the bill passed the lower house of Russia’s parliament in December 2017, before running into rare opposition from the Federation Council, which soon voted down the draft legislation. Senators argue that the law, which is intended to protect wild animals against cruelty, would actually “destroy hunting dog breeding” in Russia. The legislation’s supporters in the Duma say the Senate only rejected the law because of lobbying by “high-placed hunters.”

Never cross five million loyal voters

On December 21, 2017, the State Duma passed reforms to Russia’s hunting laws that would have prohibited the use of “baiting stations,” where big-game hunting dogs are trained to be aggressive with wild animals through exposure to chained animals in a closed area. There are currently 150 such facilities operated privately in Russia.

The legislation’s explanatory note states: “Wild animals receive serious injuries and are often killed during training. In order to prevent the animals from causing injury to the dog, they are mutilated (their teeth and claws are removed) and starved.” Lawmakers proposed that this form of training should be replaced by “contactless baiting,” where a net or sheet of glass would separate the animals.

One of the bill’s cosponsors, former Kremlin deputy chief of staff Vyacheslav Volodin, has spent years trying to ban baiting stations. It seemed as if he’d finally succeeded on December 6, 2017, when the Duma passed his bill, but the Federation Council voted it down two weeks later in a rare rebuke. This was only the second time since the current Duma took office that the parliament’s upper house rejected one of its laws. (The first time, the Senate voted down a law that would have banned advertisements on utility bills, arguing that it was a “nonsense” regulation.”)

The Senate has struggled to come to a consensus about Volodin’s baiting-station ban. Vladimir Lebedev, the deputy chairman of the Federation Council’s committee on agriculture and food policy, told the newspaper Kommersant that the law would “destroy hunting dog breeding,” arguing that so-called contactless training doesn’t work. Lebedev also warned that the legislation would “harm five million loyal citizens,” referring to Russian hunters.

Before Volodin even introduced his bill, Lebedev started polling officials from different parts of Russia, claiming that “not a single” region endorses the prohibition and “roughly 60 areas” actively oppose it.

The legislation did have some support in the Federation Council, however. On December 23, three days before the Senate voted, Chairwoman Valentina Matviyenko said she’d discussed the bill with Vyacheslav Volodin and come to the conclusion that it “struck a balance between animal rights activists and hunters.” The law also had the endorsement of two Senate committees: the Constitutional Committee and (over Lebedev’s objections) the Environmental Committee.

In the end, however, senators rejected the legislation, agreeing to a recommendation that a mediation committee should be created with 11 representatives from each house of parliament to negotiate a compromise. State Duma Deputy Speaker Olga Timofeyeva told Meduza that the mediation is estimated to last a month. “We expect our colleagues [from the Senate] to offer meaningful and rational suggestions about how to improve the existing law. Many of my colleagues who aren’t involved in hunting haven’t even read the law,” she said.

Oleg Shein, a Duma deputy from the “A Just Russia” political party, told Meduza that the Senate’s criticisms of the law have been more emotional than rational. “[They] are taking this personally. Most hunters go after only fowl and small animals. The number of licenses issued for hunting bear and other large animals [requiring dogs trained at baiting stations] is negligibly small. It’s fair to say that the law would have affected no more than 0.5 percent of all hunters in Russia. Senators took this personally because a lot of them are big-game hunters themselves,” Shein said.

State Duma Deputy Speaker Olga Timofeeva Anton Novoderezhkin / TASS

Shein also blames lobbying efforts for the bill’s defeat in the Senate, and Olga Timofeyeva told Meduza that there was “rigorous lobbying by high-placed hunters,” though she refused to single out anyone. Olga Savastyanova, a United Russia Duma deputy who also cosponsored the bill, said the Senate’s vote breaks down into simpler terms: “We are divided into those who support animal cruelty and those who are against it.”

Biting a jeep covered in bearskin

For the past two or three years, the Russian media has drawn attention to baiting stations. In 2015, the newspaper Sobesednik described these facilities as “well-organized brutality,” publishing a story about a bear named Masha that, according to animal rights activists, was mauled by dogs at a baiting station outside Moscow.

Last summer, Elena Bobrova, the president of a regional animal rights charity, told Radio Liberty about a bear named Motya that was used as bait to train hunting and fighting dogs in Perm. The dogs reportedly tore off the animal’s nose and genitals, before ripping out its throat.

In 2016, VITA Animal Rights Center president Irina Novozhilova said that a group of foxes at one baiting station were fed “bits of their own species” by staff she described as “torturers,” “sadists,” and “monsters,” accusing them of starving and blinding the animals.

The Senate’s refusal to pass the legislation has prompted a lively debate on Russian social media. On January 8, publicist Vladimir Tverskoi uploaded graphic footage of two small dogs attacking a muzzled, chained fox. At the time of this writing, the video has been viewed more than 1 million times. The footage was originally shared by Tatyana Mazunova, who worked at several baiting stations near Moscow. People commenting on the video demonstrated a range of views on the issue of animal rights. Some Facebook users said they’d like to see the dogs’ owners in the fox’s place, while others criticized Tverskoi for spreading “sponsored propaganda,” telling him to become a vegetarian if he wants to tell hunters they can’t brutalize animals.

One of Tverskoi’s most vocal critics was Maria Maltseva, a clinical psychologist with a PhD in veterinary medicine and the director of the Russian Society for the Support and Development of Therapy Dogs. Maltseva was, in turn, accused of acting as a paid troll for the hunting lobby.

“No legal baiting station was involved in any of the outrageous practices described by this man [Tverskoi],” Maltseva told Meduza. “This isn’t because hunters are true animal lovers; it’s due to the simple fact that there’s no profit in killing the animal during the baiting process. The stories about bears or boars being ripped apart are sheer nonsense. Just try sinking your teeth into a jeep covered in bearskin, and you’ll see what I mean.”

A hunter with 22 years of experience and a professional dog trainer who manages hunting-dog breeding at the Russian Hunting and Fishing Association, Maria Kuzina told Meduza that she’s never heard of bears being killed during baiting. She says the animals at baiting stations aren’t prevented from moving around and can actually defend themselves.

“The dog and the animal engage in a mutual struggle, and the animal isn’t constrained in any way. Even on a chain, a bear can still move freely. The chain is only there to keep it from running away. The animals fight back and are able to swat at the dogs, which they often do,” says Kuzina, dismissing reports that trainers declaw and bind the animals. While boars do have their tusks removed, she admits, the operation is performed surgically, with anesthesia.

Animal rights activists’ main objection to baiting stations concerns the physical and mental suffering inflicted on the animals, but Maltseva says there’s not as much pain involved as people think. “The animals used as bait are adults that already have experience with dogs. They lean into the dogs with their shoulders, where the hide is thick. Animals have 25 percent fewer pain receptors than people and almost none in their shoulders. Their skin is also twice as thick, plus they have fur,” she argues. “They certainly don’t suffer psychologically. They’re facing off against young puppies that only fool around. The animals have fun chasing after them, feeling superior.”

“Animals at testing stations are training the exact same way,” says dog trainer Marina Kuzina. “Some animals are very interesting to watch. They provoke the dog, luring it in and swatting with a paw, instead of ripping it to shreds.” Kuzina says it’s instructors and animal owners who face the real danger at baiting stations.

“Of course, the animals suffer both physically and mentally,” says biologist Ilya Volodin, a senior researcher at Moscow State University’s Biology School. “What should concern us is minimizing this pain. If we want to eliminate animal suffering altogether, we’ll have to ban all zoos and animal testing, and stop making vaccines, and so on. Bioethics can be tricky, you see. It’s a whole subject all its own in higher education, and it’s very hard to draw the lines. I think experts, not laws, should regulate these issues. A sadist shouldn’t be allowed to operate a baiting station. A rational person wouldn’t want his foxes torn apart by dogs because that’s his own money on the line.”

Viktor Drachev / TASS

Malsteva says that hunters are actually some of Russia’s fiercest critics of animal cruelty. “They’ll lay you out and take your animals,” she warns, arguing that animal abuse only occurs at illegal baiting stations (which are relatively uncommon, she says). “[Abuse] cases discredit all hunting and they insult the community and its ethics.”

A threat to hunting dog breeding

On YouTube, you can find videos from baiting stations uploaded by dog owners. Most of these videos feature wild animals moving around freely within an enclosure, sometimes chasing after a dog and sometimes trying to hide. The dogs bark and often bite the animals. Rights activists say the practice instills cruelty in both the dogs and their owners, including owners’ children, who sometimes witness the training sessions.

“When you see the baiting, you feel sorry for the animals. But after a while your compassion weakens and you become more cruel. And the staff at these facilities go home to their families and kids, so we have parents with diminished emotional capacity and especially low compassion. This can lead to stricter and crueler parenting,” clinical psychologist Margarita Izotova warned Radio Liberty.

“They have created rules that celebrate cruelty and aggression. A dog receives points in a fight with a fox. It’s given several points for barking and for approaching the game, and up to 50 for showing aggression. That’s treated as the most valuable trait,” says animal rights activist Elena Bobrova.

Aggression is indisputably valued in hunting dogs, and it’s even assessed formally in competitions. Defined as “the ability of a dog to attack the fox during the entire length of the test,” judges look for “biting, lashing, and aggressive barking,” as well as “fearlessness in attacking the fox.” Dogs receive certificates for these achievements, which, as dog trainer Marina Kuzina explains, are essential for breeding.

“It’s just like assessing milk production in cows and egg-laying in hens. It’s testing a dog to see if it meets the expected standard. There is no other way to evaluate this in breeds of hunting dogs. This is why we work with baiting stations, where they have strict rules and specially dug fox holes. It has nothing to do with ‘showing off’ or giving the dog ‘a workout,’” says Kuzina. She believes a ban on contact baiting would make it impossible to evaluate hunting dogs, posing a threat to the whole breeding business.

Cruelty to wild animals

Not all the objections to the Duma’s legislation on hunting-dog training are about ethics. The law would also restrict training stations to designated hunting grounds, arguing that these facilities shouldn’t be anywhere near cities or small children. Kuzina says trainers like her share lawmakers’ concerns about baiting stations in populated areas, but she points out that some towns and villages are technically located inside hunting grounds.

Kuzina also believes the Duma’s hunting law amendments wouldn’t actually bring about the reforms lawmakers say they want. The laws on hunting don’t apply to wild animals held in captivity, she says, which includes the animals held at baiting stations. Senator Andrey Klishas, who’s also president of the Russian Hunting Dog Federation and show chairman of Moscow’s annual Sabaneev Memorial National Dog Show, pointed out in committee that the ban in question would only prohibit the use of domestic animals, such as in “hen baiting,” which isn’t practiced in Russia.

Meduza asked the law’s sponsors to respond to these criticisms. “I see no contradiction,” said Duma deputy Olga Savastyanova. Oleg Shein dismissed the issue as “a well-known debate,” promising to send Meduza “a link to the legal statute” that resolves the apparent conflict. (We never heard back from him.)

“We have one basic aim here: to outlaw cruelty against wild animals at baiting stations today,” explained Duma deputy Olga Timofeyeva, who has visited two baiting stations. Shein and Savastyanova say they’ve never been to a baiting station. “The videos were enough for me,” says Shein.

When forming the mediation committee that’s meant to bring the Duma and Senate to an agreement, Speaker Vyacheslav Volodin stated that the lower house’s position has not changed. “We are pushing for the humane treatment of animals,” he said. If the mediation committee finds a compromise before February 10, the Duma might tried to override the Senate’s rejection, which would require a new vote and a two-thirds majority (300 out of 450 votes). Volodin might get his wish, too. The country’s ruling political party, United Russia, has signaled its willingness to call for another vote.

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Constantinople: Ukrainian Church leader is now uncanonical

October 12 letter proclaims Metropolitan Onuphry as uncanonical and tries to strong-arm him into acquiescing through bribery and force.

Seraphim Hanisch

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The pressure in Ukraine kept ratcheting up over the last few days, with a big revelation today that Patriarch Bartholomew now considers Metropolitan Onuphy “uncanonical.” This news was published on 6 December by a hierarch of the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church (running under the Moscow Patriarchate).

This assessment marks a complete 180-degree turn by the leader of the Orthodox Patriarchate of Constantinople, and it further embitters the split that has developed to quite a major row between this church’s leadership and the Moscow Patriarchate.

OrthoChristian reported this today (we have added emphasis):

A letter of Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople to His Beatitude Metropolitan Onuphry of Kiev and All Ukraine was published yesterday by a hierarch of the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church, in which the Patriarch informed the Metropolitan that his title and position is, in fact, uncanonical.

This assertion represents a negation of the position held by Pat. Bartholomew himself until April of this year, when the latest stage in the Ukrainian crisis began…

The same letter was independently published by the Greek news agency Romfea today as well.

It is dated October 12, meaning it was written just one day after Constantinople made its historic decision to rehabilitate the Ukrainian schismatics and rescind the 1686 document whereby the Kiev Metropolitanate was transferred to the Russian Orthodox Church, thereby, in Constantinople’s view, taking full control of Ukraine.

In the letter, Pat. Bartholomew informs Met. Onuphry that after the council, currently scheduled for December 15, he will no longer be able to carry his current title of “Metropolitan of Kiev and All Ukraine.”

The Patriarch immediately opens his letter with Constantinople’s newly-developed historical claim about the jurisdictional alignment of Kiev: “You know from history and from indisputable archival documents that the holy Metropolitanate of Kiev has always belonged to the jurisdiction of the Mother Church of Constantinople…”

Constantinople has done an about-face on its position regarding Ukraine in recent months, given that it had previously always recognized the Metropolitan of Kiev and All Ukraine of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Moscow Patriarchate as the sole canonical primate in Ukraine.

…The bulk of the Patriarch’s letter is a rehash of Constantinople’s historical and canonical arguments, which have already been laid out and discussed elsewhere. (See also here and here). Pat. Bartholomew also writes that Constantinople stepped into the Ukrainian ecclesiastical sphere as the Russian Church had not managed to overcome the schisms that have persisted for 30 years.

It should be noted that the schisms began and have persisted precisely as anti-Russian movements and thus the relevant groups refused to accept union with the Russian Church.

Continuing, Pat. Bartholomew informs Met. Onuphry that his position and title are uncanonical:

Addressing you as ‘Your Eminence the Metropolitan of Kiev’ as a form of economia [indulgence/condescension—OC] and mercy, we inform you that after the elections for the primate of the Ukrainian Church by a body that will consist of clergy and laity, you will not be able ecclesiologically and canonically to bear the title of Metropolitan of Kiev, which, in any case, you now bear in violation of the described conditions of the official documents of 1686.

He also entreats Met. Onuphry to “promptly and in a spirit of harmony and unity” participate, with the other hierarchs of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, in the founding council of the new Ukrainian church that Constantinople is planning to create, and in the election of its primate.

The Constantinople head also writes that he “allows” Met. Onuphry to be a candidate for the position of primate.

He further implores Met. Onuphry and the UOC hierarchy to communicate with Philaret Denisenko, the former Metropolitan of Kiev, and Makary Maletich, the heads of the schismatic “Kiev Patriarchate” and the schismatic “Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church” respectively—both of which have been subsumed into Constantinople—but whose canonical condemnations remain in force for the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church.

The hierarchs of the Serbian and Polish Churches have also officially rejected the rehabilitation of the Ukrainian schismatics.

Pat. Bartholomew concludes expressing his confidence that Met. Onuphry will decide to heal the schism through the creation of a new church in Ukraine.

The Ukrainian Orthodox Church under Metropolitan Onuphry’s leadership is recognized as the sole canonical Orthodox jurisdiction in Ukraine by just about every other canonical Orthodox Jurisdiction besides Constantinople. Even NATO member Albania, whose expressed reaction was “both sides are wrong for recent actions” still does not accept the canonicity of the “restored hierarchs.”

In fact, about the only people in this dispute that seem to be in support of the “restored” hierarchs, Filaret and Makary, are President Poroshenko, Patriarch Bartholomew, Filaret and Makary… and NATO.

While this letter was released to the public eye yesterday, the nearly two months that Metropolitan Onuphry has had to comply with it have not been helped in any way by the actions of both the Ecumenical Patriarchate and the Ukrainian government.

Priests of the Canonical Church in Ukraine awaiting interrogation by the State authorities

For example, in parallel reports released on December 6th, the government is reportedly accusing canonical priests in Ukraine of treason because they are carrying and distributing a brochure entitled (in English): The Ukrainian Orthodox Church: Relations with the State. The Attitude Towards the Conflict in Donbass and to the Church Schism. Questions and Answers.

In a manner that would do any American liberal proud, these priests are being accused of inciting religious hatred, though really all they are doing is offering an explanation for the situation in Ukraine as it exists.

A further piece also released yesterday notes that the Ukrainian government rehabilitated an old Soviet-style technique of performing “inspections of church artifacts” at the Pochaev Lavra. This move appears to be both intended to intimidate the monastics who are living there now, who are members of the canonical Church, as well as preparation for an expected forcible takeover by the new “united Church” that is under creation. The brotherhood characterized the inspections in this way:

The brotherhood of the Pochaev Lavra previously characterized the state’s actions as communist methods of putting pressure on the monastery and aimed at destroying monasticism.

Commenting on the situation with the Pochaev Lavra, His Eminence Archbishop Clement of Nizhyn and Prilusk, the head of the Ukrainian Church’s Information-Education Department, noted:

This is a formal raiding, because no reserve ever built the Pochaev Lavra, and no Ministry of Culture ever invested a single penny to restoring the Lavra, and the state has done nothing to preserve the Lavra in its modern form. The state destroyed the Lavra, turned it into a psychiatric hospital, a hospital for infectious diseases, and so on—the state has done nothing more. And now it just declares that it all belongs to the state. No one asked the Church, the people that built it. When did the Lavra and the land become state property? They belonged to the Church from time immemorial.

With the massive pressure both geopolitically and ecclesiastically building in Ukraine almost by the day, it is anyone’s guess what will happen next.

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Ukrainian leadership is a party of war, and it will continue as long as they’re in power – Putin

“We care about Ukraine because Ukraine is our neighbor,” Putin said.

RT

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Via RT…


Russia’s President Vladimir Putin has branded the Ukrainian leadership a “party of war” which would continue fueling conflicts while they stay in power, giving the recent Kerch Strait incident as an example.

“When I look at this latest incident in the Black Sea, all what’s happening in Donbass – everything indicates that the current Ukrainian leadership is not interested in resolving this situation at all, especially in a peaceful way,” Putin told reporters during a media conference in the aftermath of the G20 summit in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

This is a party of war and as long as they stay in power, all such tragedies, all this war will go on.

The Kiev authorities are craving war primarily for two reasons – to rip profits from it, and to blame all their own domestic failures on it and actions of some sort of “aggressors.”

“As they say, for one it’s war, for other – it’s mother. That’s reason number one why the Ukrainian government is not interested in a peaceful resolution of the conflict,” Putin stated.

Second, you can always use war to justify your failures in economy, social policy. You can always blame things on an aggressor.

This approach to statecraft by the Ukrainian authorities deeply concerns Russia’s President. “We care about Ukraine because Ukraine is our neighbor,” Putin said.

Tensions between Russia and Ukraine have been soaring after the incident in the Kerch Strait. Last weekend three Ukrainian Navy ships tried to break through the strait without seeking the proper permission from Russia. Following a tense stand-off and altercation with Russia’s border guard, the vessels were seized and their crews detained over their violation of the country’s border.

While Kiev branded the incident an act of “aggression” on Moscow’s part, Russia believes the whole Kerch affair to be a deliberate “provocation” which allowed Kiev to declare a so-called “partial” martial law ahead of Ukraine’s presidential election.

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When Putin Met Bin Sally

Another G20 handshake for the history books.

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Via Zerohedge


In the annals of handshake photo-ops, we just may have a new winner (much to the delight of oil bulls who are looking at oil treading $50 and contemplating jumping out of the window).

Nothing but sheer joy, delight and friendship…

…but something is missing…

Meanwhile, earlier…

Zoomed in…

And again.

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