Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Putin for the Birds? Russian's Flight Leads Cranes to Arctic Home

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Putin for the Birds? Russian's Flight Leads Cranes to Arctic Home

Article excerpt

MOSCOW -- Vladimir V. Putin is the unquestioned supreme leader of Russia, known for his icy stare and steely ways. But now, Mr. Putin has taken on a new, perhaps more tender, leadership role. He has guided a flock of birds -- through the air.

Russia's president piloted a motorized hang glider over an Arctic wilderness while leading six endangered Siberian cranes toward their winter habitat, as part of an operation called "The Flight of Hope," his press office confirmed Wednesday.

While Mr. Putin recently has found some resistance to his stewardship at home, he found a more receptive crowd among his feathered followers. Experts say these cranes, when raised in captivity, quickly form bonds with figures they perceive as parents. That is a role that Mr. Putin apparently has been training for.

"For cranes, the parent is a man in a white robe," Yuri Markin, director of the game preserve that reared the chicks, told Russian News Service, a radio network. "They don't remember a particular person. They remember the white robe and hood or, on the ultralight, a white helmet -- and a special beak that is worn on the head."

It was unclear whether Mr. Putin wore the billowy, white costume or donned the beak.

Late Wednesday, the Interfax news agency reported that the president had flown three times in an ultralight aircraft at the Kushavet ornithological research station on the Yamal Peninsula, in the Arctic. On two flights, cranes followed him, Interfax said.

A political cartoon was making the rounds in the morning, showing resentful-looking cranes and Mr. Putin wearing cardboard wings, telling them: "Let's assign roles right now. I'll be the alpha crane!"

Another, darker one went this way: Mr. Putin looked at the crane and said, "I will save you!" The crane looked at the president and thought, "Maybe I'd better die out."

Although Mr. …

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