Vladimir Putin's flight with migratory birds: Has he become a laughingstock?

Russia's infamously rugged, often bare-chested president tries to help save some endangered Siberian cranes. This is funny?

Russian President Vladimir Putin
(Image credit: AP Photo/RIA-Novosti, Alexei Druzhinin, Presidential Press Service)

Russian President Vladimir Putin is legendary for his shows of strength and bravado — riding shirtless through Siberia on a horse, shooting tigers and polar bears with tranquilizer darts, tagging whales with a crossbow, swimming laps in an arctic river. But his latest stunt has Russians scratching their heads, or even laughing out loud: On Wednesday evening, on the way to the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit he's hosting in Vladivostok, Putin donned a puffy white jumpsuit, swung into a motorized hang glider, and led a flock of endangered Siberian cranes on their winter migration path. "They are beautiful boys, adorable, they are just three-months-old but big already," Putin told the newspaper Izvestia. The cranes were raised in captivity, and the idea was to teach them how to migrate. "It is difficult to convey in words," said the Russian statesman. "Just a good feeling." Is this Putin showing off his softer side, or descending into self-parody?

Putin jumped the shark: Never has "a Putin stunt produced such widespread, hysterical laughter," says Julia Ioffe at The New Republic. Flying with cranes is not "Putin's standard macho fare," it's something "informationally isolated, slightly off-kilter Central Asian dictators" might do. Russia's premier strongman is no longer "feared and reviled"; he's a joke. And this stunt will have consequences. Even as he's cracking down on dissidents, Putin will learn that, while it might be "better to be feared than loved, it is definitely better to be feared than laughed at."

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