Vladimir Putin is preparing to give a landmark speech to this
weekend's summit of Asia-Pacific leaders in Vladivostok, to outline
Russia's planned economic and geopolitical pivot to Asia.
But that can wait. Some endangered Siberian cranes urgently
needed a leader to show the way from their ancestral Arctic nesting
grounds to their winter habitat in central Asia. The intrepid Mr.
Putin detoured hundreds of miles northward to the remote Yamal
Peninsula, suited up in a baggy crane-like costume, took the
controls of a motorized deltaplane hang glider, and at least
according to this report on the state-run RT network safely led a
gaggle of the rare young birds who'd been raised in captivity onto
their correct migratory path.
If Putin's itinerary sounds a bit like Batman's, it's because the
Kremlin works hard to make it so. And the third-term Russian
president, who's been doing this sort of thing since he first came
to power more than twelve years ago obviously enjoys it.
The latest exploit looks fairly typical for a guy who's piloted a
Mir-2 submersible to the bottom of Lake Baikal, allegedly saved a TV
crew from attack by a deadly Siberian tiger, shot a huge grey whale
with a crossbow (in the name of science), personally took the
controls of a water bomber to douse wildfires that were sweeping
Russia two years ago, discovered an ancient Greek urn during a brief
dive in the Black Sea, and many more.
"Usually about this time, late summer or early autumn, Putin
tends to have some recreational entertainments, and he generously
shares them with the people," says Alexei Grazhdankin, deputy
director of the Levada Center, an independent public opinion agency
"Putin doesn't let anybody into his private life so such things
substitute for private details, that the public would normally be
interested in," he says. "No doubt this is pure PR action, even if
it triggers criticism or makes people smile."
Russia's blogosphere erupted in derision Thursday, and photoshop
artists had a field day creating images of a bare-chested Putin made
up as a bird man, while cartoonist Sergei Elkin depicted him in bird
gear scolding the cranes: "Let's be clear, I am the Alpha-Crane
But Russian animal welfare activists are more charitable. They
say that Putin's stunts, whatever you may think of them, have
brought much-needed publicity and state support for projects like
the effort to save the Siberian cranes that had long relied almost
totally on outside backing. …