There are several reasons why cats are popular in Russia. In fact a survey reported on the Enjoy Russian Language School tells me that in proportion to the country’s overall population more Russians (59%) have a cat at home than any other country.
One reason is to do with the historical culture. In Russia cats are considered to be wise while dogs carry negative connotations. Sometimes people call others a dog when they have done something bad (this not uncommon in many countries, incidentally) but when people sweet talk others who they love they call them a little cat or kitten (КОТЁНОК means kitten and КОТИК means cat).
On the quora.com website a couple of commenters who I’d consider qualified to comment say that (a) cats reduce stress in a relatively harsh life compared to the West and (b) Russians overwhelmingly own and live in apartments which are more suited to cats than dogs and there are no landlords to place restrictions on cat ownership under short-term rental agreements.
These are pointers to the reason why Russians like cats which is also demonstrated in the large number of cat breeders who create some amazing cats. Perhaps one the world’s most outstanding Maine Coon breeders creates cats with human faces. Russians are excellent Maine Coon cat breeders if you judge by appearance. It is ironic because of the incessant cold war between Russia and America.
For my part, I’d argue that the most likely reason is because most Russians live in apartments and 80% own their homes. This lends itself to cat ownership over dogs. However, it is far from an ideal situation as apartment living for domestic cats is very restrictive and there are no animal welfare laws protecting companion animals (src: Wikipedia). How good are the lives of these cats? I have a feeling that, in general, Russian apartments are pretty small and fairly basic. No disrespect intended.
There are animal welfare laws in Russia but it is said that the culture is not attuned to animal welfare and their laws are limited by the standards of the West. They receive an ‘F’ from the World Animal Protection’s Animal Protection Index (lowest grade).
A guy on quora.com, Jack Halewood, writes that animal rights and welfare is all but non-existent in Russia. I can believe it judging by the stories that come out of Russia and some domestic cats will lead hard lives in an apartment. But it is clear that they have an affinity for cats and in general I am sure that they treat them well.
Here is a table of cat ownership by country. Surprisingly Russia is not mentioned!
SOME MORE ON MAINE COONS: