Not the spindly, vertiginous, Meccano-on-steroids contraptions that tower over building sites from Dundee to Dubai and which were seen swaying perilously over Manhattan this week as SuperStorm Sandy did its worst.

No, we mean the wetland-loving migratory birds whose long necks and legs have given those machines their name.

In particular, that flock of Siberian cranes which fell into formation alongside a motorised hang-glider drilling its way through the pure blue skies over Vladivostock one day in September. The hang-glider was piloted by a hard-faced, blue-eyed 60-year-old wearing a spotless white boiler suit – let's call him Vladimir Putin, President of Russia, because that's his name – who was none too pleased about the unwelcome attention as it was distracting from his latest He-Man media stunt. President Putin, you may recall, is very fond of being photographed (usually bare-chested) doing foolhardy things such as riding horses, swimming in freezing rivers, petting polar bears and accompanying himself on the piano while singing Blueberry Hill.

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In fact the cranes proved so distracting as they buzzed the hang-glider the Prez was piloting that he aggravated an old injury and has barely been seen in public since. At least that's the claim as presented in Russian newspaper Vedomosti.

President Putin's spokesman, meanwhile, has countered the story through a Russian news agency. So is the whole thing just a web of rumour and disinformation spun by western intelligence agencies trying to making President Putin look stupid? Perhaps. Do we even know the cranes were real? There are photographs, of course, though did anyone check that they weren't actually remote-controlled cyborg cranes with "Made in Langley" stamped on the bottom?

Until we know the answer, give praise to the crane for doing what few other world leaders have managed and upstaging the bullish Russian leader – and in mid-air, too.