Criticisms leveled against Moscow's response to the raging wildfires are now obsolete. While Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov was roundly berated for grudgingly returning from his European vacation to deal with the fires, Vladimir Putin himself co-piloted a plane over burning forests, releasing 24 tons of water on a blaze -- all without any formal pilot training.
Putin, wearing a blue shirt and jeans, boarded a Russian-built Be-200 amphibious aircraft as a passenger for a flight over the Ryazan region.
But he later went into the cockpit and sat in the co-pilot's seat, holding the throttle and pushing a button to dump 24 tons of water on forest fires about 200 kilometers southeast of Moscow.
Footage on Channel One television showed Putin hitting the button and asking the pilot, "Was that OK?"
The pilot replied, "A direct hit!"
After the spectacularly managed photo-op, reminiscent of a similar adventure by the second Bush, Putin visited a village where he pledged aid: Families would be compensated in cash or have their houses re-built, but at a maximum of $66,600, or 2 million rubles.
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