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Vladimir Putin is not known to have any formal pilots' training. Alexei Nikolsky/AP

Putin takes to the skies to tackle wildfires

Russia’s prime minister co-pilots a plane and puts out two fires – which could be turning radioactive.

RUSSIAN PRIME MINISTER Vladimir Putin has taken to the skies to personally help Russia tackle the 600 wildfires still burning across the country after an unprecedented heat wave.

Putin had taken flight as part of an inspection of the efforts to address the fires, but jumped into the co-pilot’s seat shortly after takeoff and personally pressed a button that saw 24 tonnes of water dumped on top of two fires, 120 miles from Moscow.

Glancing at the pilot after pushing the button – as part of a carefully-managed photo op – Putin, who is not known to have any formal aviation training, asked,

Was that OK?

His pilot definitively answered:

A direct hit!

The stunt may have been designed to address the prime minister’s falling popularity in opinion polls, as support for both Putin and president Dmitry Medvedev heads towards 40%.

His appearance is not the first time that the two-term former president has tried to present himself as a modern-day strongman. In 2007 he posed topless in photographs depicting him fishing and horse-riding.

Meanwhile, fears are growing that fires on the nation’s wheat crops – which are causing a global shortage and could even end up making Guinness dearer – could be burning remnant radioactive fallout material from Chernobyl.

Greenpeace Russia believe the fires are now heavily encroaching upon areas hit by the explosion of the nuclear reactor in 1986, causing masses of radioactive smoke to be sent back into the atmosphere over the country.

International environmental group Bellona said:

The Chernobyl catastrophe occurred and these areas were littered with radioactive fallout. This contaminated the trees and the grass.

Now, when there is a fire and when all of this burns, all of this radioactivity, together with smoke, comes out and spreads to other territories, including populated areas where people breathe it in as smog.

The damage caused by the fires is now estimated to have exceeded $15bn (€11.5bn) – or almost 1% of the country’s entire GDP – as Russia’s hottest summer since records began ravages the country’s wheat stocks and leads it to ban some exports.

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