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Russian President Vladimir Putin kisses a Turkmen shepherd dog, locally known as Alabai, presented by Turkmenistan's President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov during a meeting in Sochi, Russia October 11, 2017. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov

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SOCHI, Russia (Reuters) - Russian President Vladimir Putin, a dog lover, received a top breed puppy as a belated birthday gift on Wednesday from Turkmenistan's president who is keen to recover lost Russian markets for Turkmen gas.

"We have a common friend - this is the world's unique alabai dog. And today I brought this little alabai with me," President Kurbanguly Berdymukhamedov said before talks with Putin, pulling the pup out from a portable cage and holding it up by the scruff of its neck.

Putin, who marked his 65th birthday on Oct. 7, took the puppy, called Verny which means "faithful" in Russian, and kissed it in its forehead.

The alabai is a home-bred Turkmen variety of the Central Asian shepherd dog. Along with the handmade carpets and the ancient Akhal Teke breed of race horses, it is officially listed as part of Turkmenistan's national heritage.

Plush and cuddly when they are young, alabai dogs grow into fierce shepherd dogs, fearless in warding off wolves but also in dealing with human strangers.

Berdymukhamedov, a flamboyant former dentist whose interests range from sport cars to noble horses, enjoys a personality cult and autocratic powers in his desert nation which sits on the world's fourth-largest natural gas reserves.

The two men held talks at the Black Sea resort of Sochi, on the sidelines of a summit of ex-Soviet states, with the Turkmen side keen to see a possible resumption of natural gas exports to Russia.

Russia, once the main buyer of Turkmen gas, stopped buying the fuel last year due to a price dispute. China, with its growing appetite for energy, is now the main market for Turkmen gas.

Some other foreign leaders including those of Japan and Bulgaria have also given Putin puppies of rare breeds as gifts.

(Reporting by Denis Pinchuk; Additional reporting by Olzhas Auyezov in Almaty; Writing by Dmitry Solovyov; Editing by Richard Balmforth)

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