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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Fish Cesareans Have Guests in Stitches

True or false? Russian sturgeons are cut open, their caviar removed, and then sewed up to live another day.

President Vladimir Putin told President George W. Bush over dinner at his Novo-Ogaryovo residence Friday night that Russia has many sturgeons swimming about with surgical stitches. While other dinner guests roared with laughter, Bush said he believed him.

Whether he knew it or not, Bush was right.

The conversation took place when the guests were being treated to caviar and Putin announced that some Russian caviar is harvested in a procedure similar to a cesarean section, Putin told reporters Saturday.

"The experts take the fish and cut it open, take the caviar, then stitch it up and throw it back into the water," Putin told the dinner guests.

But despite Putin's efforts to convince the diners that he was telling the truth, nobody but Bush believed him.

"The Secretary of State [Colin Powell], the Russian Foreign Minister [Igor Ivanov], Ms. Condoleezza Rice, Mr. [Sergei] Ivanov and also both wives -- my wife and Mr. President's wife -- all laughed at me," Putin said.

"But there was only one person who said, 'I believe probably that's how it is.' It was the president of the United States."

It was unclear whether the caviar on the table was indeed harvested by the method described by Putin, but the Russian president was not pulling Bush's leg.

For more than 70 years scientists and fish farmers have been trying to extract caviar without killing the sturgeon.

Putin saw with his own eyes how sturgeons are bred while visiting a fish farm near Astrakhan in April.

Yury Usenko, president of the Akvatron fish farm, said two methods have been developed to extract caviar without killing the fish. One of them involves a small "half-cesarean section," he said Sunday. "The fish is then stitched up and released. It can reproduce again a year later."

The other method was developed in the 1930s and involves injecting hormones from a sexually mature sturgeon into the fish. The injection speeds up the development of the eggs and their release. No surgical procedures are required for this method, Usenko said.

Both methods are mainly used to replenish stocks at fish farms.

"We are still behind Japan with this technology, but we could certainly give a serious lesson to the United States and Europe," Usenko said.

If anything, Bush's four-day visit proved he still has a fondness for snacks.

Bush, who bruised his face after choking on a pretzel and falling off a couch earlier this year, could not resist the candies laid out in the Kremlin's St. Catherine's Hall on Friday and quickly popped one in his mouth as the two presidents sat down for talks, Reuters reported.

But as Putin began his welcoming remarks, he looked slightly sheepish, spat the boiled pink candy out of his mouth into its wrapper and placed it out of sight.

Putin seized just about every opportunity to poke fun at uneasy economic relations between Russia and the United States.

On Friday, he suggested a lifting of U.S. restrictions on Russian steel and aluminum exports would make Boeing planes cheaper.

"Had the Americans bought our cheap aluminum and steel, then perhaps [Boeings] would be cheaper and more competitive," Putin said at a Kremlin news conference.

At a forum with St. Petersburg University students Saturday, Putin teased Bush on the hot issue of Russia joining the World Trade Organization.

When a student asked Bush which steps Washington would take to ensure Russia's speedy entry into WTO, Putin blurted out, "Good question!"

Bush then launched into a rambling answer that, among other things, suggested Putin's desire for Russia to join was of paramount importance and that he personally was not against the bid.

"Oh, if it's that simple and the president has no objections, I'll just vote for it now," Putin said.

Bush also showed a quick sense of humor in St. Petersburg.

The presidents and their wives were winding up a two-hour tour of the Hermitage Museum on Saturday when Hermitage director Mikhail Piotrovsky insisted on showing off a portrait of Empress Catherine the Great, who also founded the museum's magnificent art collection.

Bush said right away, "Oh and by the way, where's the portrait of Potyomkin?"

Grigory Potyomkin, Catherine's lover and longtime aide, is probably best known for deceiving Catherine about the wealth of the peasants. He put up beautiful villages with well-dressed residences along the banks of the Volga River for Catherine to see while she traveled by boat.

Since then, "Potyomkin villages" has become a Russian term for presenting things better than they really are to make a good impression on guests.

U.S. first lady Laura Bush entertained Russian school children by quacking to them in English at the State Children's Library on Friday.

The boys and girls, all of whom have some knowledge of English, listened attentively as Bush read to them from "Make Way for Ducklings" by Robert McCloskey, the storybook of choice over the past decade of U.S.-Russian diplomacy.

After the reading ended, the children applauded and Bush, a former librarian, handed out souvenirs -- printed cards featuring the Bushes' dog, Barney, with a list of his hobbies on the back, The New York Times reported. The newspaper cited officials as saying that the Russian side had been taken aback by the odd American practice of assembling children for a mass reading.

McCloskey's story, first published in 1941, received wide press coverage in Moscow in 1991 after Bush's mother-in-law, then-first lady Barbara Bush, presented her Soviet counterpart Raisa Gorbachev with a set of larger-than-life bronze duck statues in a gesture of the two nations' new-found cooperation. Some of the ducks -- now a children's favorite in Moscow's Novodevichy Park -- have been carted away by scrap-metal hunters on several occasions, only to be replaced by big-hearted officials and business people.

Staff Writer Natalia Yefimova contributed to this story.