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Russian President Vladimir Putin pets a snow leopard cub at a sanctuary in Sochi on Tuesday. / Alexei Nikolsky, AP

SOCHI, Russia (AP) - Stroking a Persian leopard sprawled on his lap, tough-guy President Vladimir Putin showed his softer side Thursday as he prepared to welcome the world to his budget-busting Winter Olympics.

Basking in the glow of support from International Olympic Committee Chairman Thomas Bach, Putin began his stay at the Sochi Games by promoting a cuddly image, visiting a group of endangered Persian leopard cubs born last summer in the mountains above the Black Sea resort.

"We've decided to restore the population of the Persian leopard because of the Olympic Games," Putin said. "Let's say that because of the Olympic Games, we have restored parts of the destroyed nature."

Putin entered the cage and petted the leopard on the head. "We liked each other," he said.



Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Read the original story: Putin strokes a Persian leopard

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