VLADIVOSTOK, Russia – Russian President Vladimir Putin piloted a motorized hang glider Wednesday to lead a flock of young Siberian white cranes in flight.
Dressed in a white costume meant to imitate an adult crane, Putin took part in a project to teach the endangered birds who were raised in captivity to follow the aircraft on their migration to Central Asia.
RIA-Novosti news agency reported that only one crane followed Putin on his first flight, which he attributed to high winds that caused the hang glider to travel faster than usual. On the second flight, five birds followed Putin, but after a few circles only two had stuck with him.
Putin stopped off at the Kushavet ornithological research station on the Yamal Peninsula on Wednesday on his way to an international summit in Vladivostok.
Putin has become alternately notorious and beloved for an array of macho stunts, including posing with a tiger cub, riding a horse bare-chested and petting a polar bear tranquilized in the wild. The stunts irritate Putin’s opponents, who regard them not as benign political entertainment but as part of an establishment of a cult of personality lionizing an authoritarian leader.
Some of the stunts have purported scientific connections. But Putin last year was caught short when one of the events was revealed to be a set-up.
In that case, Putin was shown scuba diving and bringing up fragments of ancient Greek amphorae. But Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov later admitted the artifacts had been planted on the sea floor for Putin to grab.