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Putin softens image

SHERRYLYN CLARKE, [email protected]

Putin softens image

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SOCHI, Russia (AP) – Vladimir Putin, rugged outdoorsman and tough-guy Russian president, is promoting a cuddly image as the Olympics draw near.
Putin checked in today at a preserve for endangered snow leopards and visited a group of cubs born last summer in the mountains above the growing torrent of activity in Sochi for the Winter Games.
Russian news agencies reported his arrival at the snow leopard sanctuary, which was established five years ago as a project designed as a show of environmental consciousness during the Olympics, which open Friday.
The former KGB operative has thrown open the Kremlin treasury to finance the Olympics, lavishing a record $51 billion on sports facilities and transportation infrastructure in the resort city on the Black Sea coast.