(Mike Morse, YOUR CAT Magazine, August 1998)
Ironically, this troubled country has had little good fortune this century.
Less than a decade ago it was still in the iron grip of communism. Today, it has broken free but is struggling to gain economic stability.
Many Russians find it hard to feed themselves, let alone their cats. Veterinary care is often outdated or too dear and there is a deep-rooted mistrust of medicine, so many cats go untreated.
Happily, there are always exceptions to be found across this vast land. A thriving network of cats clubs has sprung up from St.Petersburg in the north to Vladivostok in the far east. They want the world to recognize new native cat breeds - and not just the Russian Blue. Some recognition came last year when the Federation International Feline (FIFe) approved the standards for the Siberian, a semi-longhair breed with a sweet nature.
An artistic renaissance is also dawning as Russia enjoys new-found creative freedom. Felines are such an inspiration that there is a permanent cat museum in Moscow.
And there are countless animal lovers who, despite hardship, care passionately for their pets.
Many westerners gain their first impression of Russia on arrival in its capital city. It proved a lasting impression for Jonathan Owen of the World Society for the Protection of Animals.
He said: "Animal welfare isn't really a concept there. It's virtually non-existent. It's a pretty inhospitable place."
He found a city struggling for survival where cats fended for themselves. Many were on sale at dingy markets to anyone with enough roubles to spare.
Neutering or spaying was frowned upon - surprisingly even at the animal shelter where Jonathan stayed.
"They assumed it meant your animal was in a great state of pain for two weeks. But in Britain, it's a very simple operation."
Veterinary clinics appeared to be about 50 years behind the UK in terms of equipment. Jonathan said: "I would describe them as pretty much still in the 40s. They were stocked but far less up-to-date than anything in Britain."
One excellent practice is that once a week, a number of clinics waive the vet's bills, allowing pets to be seen for free. Jonathan said: "It was touching to see people, including really old ladies, coming in with their cats. It was obvious they didn't have a penny."
AN ARTISTIC FRONT
Cats in Moscow have an unusual ally in the Moscow Cat Museum. IT has a permanent display of art inspired by felines. Museum director Andrei Abramov is a cat lover who believes the exhibition can teach Russians more about animal welfare.
He said: "To this end we have worked out several programmes for children, such as an annual picture contest among children, 'My Cat'. Children send drawings and pictures from all over Russia and we have festivals and shows. Let's hope the situation will change for the better one day."
Andrei is also calling on the government to launch a Russian version of the RSPCA. It would be a fitting way to continue Russia's traditional tolerance of cats.
Andrei said: "Cats have a special place in the Russian household. Moving to a new house, it was customary to let the cat in first to ensure a happy and prosperous life."
"For centuries, shop owners had cats as pets, not only to eliminate mice but as a sigh of prosperity. The fatter the cat, the more prosperous the business of the master in the eyes of its neighbours."