Russian bloggers cast doubt on Putin's fishy tale

MOSCOW (AFP) - President Vladimir Putin's opponents on Monday gleefully sought to prove the Russian strongman had massively exaggerated the weight of a pike he caught on a recent fishing expedition to Siberia.

The Kremlin on Friday had announced that Mr Putin managed to catch a 21 kilogramme (46 pound) pike while on a trip to the region of Tuva, providing television footage and pictures of the president stripped to the waist as he cast his line.

The images were clearly aimed at proving that Mr Putin at the age of 60 is still comfortable in raw nature and has the physical energy to catch a huge fish and lead his nation in changing times.

But the catch immediately sent the opposition - whose scrutiny on the Internet of Mr Putin's stunts becomes ever more thorough each year - scurrying to their fishing manuals to prove the Kremlin wrong.

And prominent opposition bloggers claimed on Monday that Mr Putin had fallen into the classic amateur fisherman's trap of exaggerating the size of his catch.

Blogger and author Alfred Kokh calculated the length, diameter and volume of the fish and said it could only have weighed "10-11 kilogrammes" and not the 21 kilogrammes as claimed by the Kremlin.

Pro-opposition journalist Oleg Kashin added that a fish with the density of a 21-kilo pike the size of the one caught by Mr Putin would simply have sunk to the bottom of the lake.

"A pike that heavy just could not swim," Mr Kashin wrote on Twitter. "She would sink to the bottom! In fact this pike was made from granite."

Mr Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov rubbished the claims, which he blamed on "it being summer, there's nothing to do, people need to talk".

"I personally saw the scales and was present at the weighing. The pike really weighed more than 20 kilogrammes," he told the Russian News Service.

The pro-Kremlin mass-circulation daily Komsomolskaya Pravda showed no such suspicions, devoting a whole page to pictures of Putin in his camouflage outfit and fawning commentary.

"Many people think that catching such a trophy is a pure accident," a fishing expert named Vitaly Maximov told the newspaper.

"Be sure, it's not by chance! You need to have the psychology of a victor and a risk-taker."

The standoff between pro-Kremlin media and bloggers recalls a similar controversy last year when Mr Putin took to a hang-glider to fly with endangered cranes on their migration.

It later emerged that the cranes had failed to migrate and had ended up being transported by plane to fenced enclosures in nature reserves.

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