If this isn't a sign of the neo-Soviet apocalypse then we don't know what is: Vladimir Putin casts about for a hero to pin a medal on, and the best he can come up with is . . . wait for it . . . a sheep saver! The Moscow Times reports:
President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday bestowed the country's highest honor on a shepherd who saved 500 sheep from armed marauders and wildfires. Babu-Dorzho Mikhailov became the first shepherd ever to receive the Hero of Russia medal, which Putin presented to him in the Kremlin's ornate Yekaterininsky Hall, outshining dozens of artists, doctors and scientists who received lesser state honors. Mikhailov thanked Putin for the award and his attention to agriculture workers. "I am happy," the 54-year-old Siberian told reporters after the ceremony. Apparently tongue-tied in front of television cameras, the modest, quiet Mikhailov let an Agriculture Ministry official do the talking. In October, Mikhailov saved 500 sheep -- worth 4 million rubles ($160,000) -- by fending off an armed attack by thieves trying to steal them for mutton, said Feliks Pavlusenko, an aide to Agriculture Minister Alexei Gordeyev. In April, the shepherd rescued his flock from a fire that scorched the steppes in the Chita region, Pavlusenko said. Mikhailov rounded up the sheep, "sat on a tractor and plowed soil around so that the blaze wouldn't spread," Pavlusenko said, adding that the "combination of the two heroic deeds" led to the award. "Among shepherds, he is the first" to receive the Hero of Russia, said Pavlusenko, adding that Mikhailov had worked as a herder for 32 years. While Mikhailov is the only shepherd to receive the award, he is not the only one to be recognized in recent years for his service to the county. In 2002, Putin presented Georgian shepherd Levan Telidze with the medal of courage for warning Russian border guards about the plans of an armed gang to cross the border into Chechnya. Georgian special services, however, doubted that he had passed any information to Russian border guards and questioned the very fact of the shepherd's existence. Izvestia said at the time that Telidze was under protection of the Federal Security Service and that he would likely be given a new identity and a home in Russia.Pathetic. Breath-takingly, mind-bogglingly pathetic. Russia, in a nutshell.