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Russia's Putin mocks opposition over 'birdman' criticism

VLADIVOSTOK, Russia--Russian President Vladimir Putin on Sunday hit back at opponents who made fun of his flight with endangered Siberian cranes, comparing his critics to weak birds who could not keep up with him.

Ahead of his arrival at the APEC summit in Vladivostok, Putin donned goggles and took to the controls of a motorized hang-glider over Siberia in a billowing white costume to pretend to be a bird and guide the cranes on their winter migration path.

Unsurprisingly, the stunt prompted howls of laughter among Russia's increasingly confident opposition bloggers, who acidly noted that on his first flight Putin failed to persuade the cranes to follow him.

“Indeed, not all the cranes flew initially. Only the weak cranes did not fly,” Putin told his final press conference at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in the Far Eastern Russian city.

“But only at the first attempt. At the second attempt everyone flew.”

Television presenter and opposition activist Ksenia Sobchak had on Twitter compared Russians to the cranes, some of whom followed Putin while others chose to leave the country or take to the streets.

Visibly relishing the comparisons, Putin went on:

“There are of course little birds which do not fly in a flock at all, they prefer to build nests somewhere separately.

“Even if they are not members of our flock, they are still members of our population and one has to treat them with care — where possible,” he said.

But Putin also admitted that he was to blame for failing to attract the birds to fly with him on the first flight, saying he had made the mistake of taking off and flying too quickly.

“But I should admit and say honestly that a leader, a pilot is also to blame for the fact that not all the cranes flew at once because he was accelerating and ascending too quickly. They simply were not keeping up.”

“Simply during certain moments like bad weather and strong sidewinds a pilot is forced to ascend and accelerate quickly, otherwise the system can capsize,” he said.

It was unclear whether Putin was making any allusion to what the opposition says amounts to a lightning crackdown in Russia since his March 4 election as president.

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Russian President Vladimir Putin pilots a motorized hang glider to fly with cranes as he takes part in a scientific experiment as part of the “Flight of Hope,” which aims to preserve a rare species of cranes, Wednesday, Sept. 5

(AFP)

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