Dissident cranes loath to play follow my leader with Putin

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President Vladimir Putin has piloted a motorised hang glider to lead a flock of young Siberian white cranes in flight.

Dressed in a white costume meant to imitate an adult crane, Mr Putin took part in a project to teach the endangered birds, which were raised in captivity, to follow the aircraft on their migration to Central Asia.

RIA-Novosti news agency reported that only one crane followed Mr 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 him, but after a few circles only two had stuck with him.

Mr Putin stopped off at the Kushavet ornithological research station on the Yamal Peninsula on his way to an international summit in Vladivostok.

In another development,Mr Putin has said Russia can work with Mitt Romney if he is elected US president – even though the Republican candidate has called Russia the United States’s “number one geopolitical foe”.

In an interview broadcast yesterday by the Kremlin-funded Russia Today TV channel, the Russian president said: “We’ll work with whichever president is elected by the American people. But our effort will be only as efficient as our partners will want it to be.”

Mr Putin expressed concern about how a Romney presidency would affect the long-running dispute over US-led Nato plans to place elements of a missile defence system in Europe.

Russia contends the system could undermine its own defences.

Mr Putin said if Mr Romney is elected “the missile defence system will definitely be directed against Russia”.