From false teeth and different-shaped ears to rumours of plastic surgery and a suspiciously fast walk – could Vladimir Putin really be using a body double?
Observers have pointed to the Kremlin strongman’s changing appearance over the years as possible evidence that he uses someone else to stand in for him on engagements he either does not want to make or considers too dangerous.
A video claiming the 70-year-old is using body doubles has gone viral, but it isn’t the first time the Russian president has been accused of deploying the tactic.
Here, MailOnline takes a look back at appearances that have raised suspicions the despot uses a doppelgänger.
A viral video in March seized on speculation that Vladimir Putin’s only trip so far to newly-invaded territory in Mariupol on March 19 was performed by a doppelgänger, and asked: ‘Who is ruling Russia?’
Putin is widely believed to have had regular plastic surgery as he has aged since first becoming acting president on the last day of 1999
Kyiv official Anton Gerashchenko posted three images of Putin’s chin and questioned whether they belonged to the same man. He taunted: ‘What’s up with your chin, Putin?’
It is unclear who made the footage but it appears to be aimed at reaching Russians who rely on uber-loyalist state media for their news.
The producers of the video said that a specialist has noticed differences in the Russian president’s appearance, like the ledge on his earlobe, a mole or his wrinkles which ‘constantly change’.
Putin is widely believed to have had regular plastic surgery as he has aged since first becoming acting president on the last day of 1999.
Rumours are rife that Putin ‘understudies’ – who have undergone plastic surgery to resemble him – are deployed increasingly as his health worsens amid rumours of cancer and early stage Parkinson’s.
For Putin’s Mariupol visit, the video claims ‘they forgot to put in his jaw’ as it looks different to Putin’s and also questions if the ‘double’ has false teeth.
On Monday, March 20, Kyiv official Anton Gerashchenko posted three images of Putin’s chin and questioned whether they belonged to the same man.
The Interior Minister advisor wrote: ‘What’s up with your chin, Putin?
‘Looks like lately his make-up artists (i.e. for the recent trips of the bunker man to the occupied Crimea and Mariupol) had to work with quite a low-quality copy, not even a double but its copy. I wonder which one of them was real?’
One picture showed Putin, 70, one month ago in an address to the Federal Assembly in Moscow.
Another was Putin’s reported visit to naval port Sevastopol in Crimea on March 18.
And the third was from footage released the following day evidently showing the dictator in war-blitzed Mariupol.
The first image showed his chin tight and precise.
But the image in Sevastopol – grabbed from Ukraine in 2014 – incited a sagging chin, while the Mariupol chin appears firmer but less so than in the Moscow picture.
The Telegram channel General SVR insisted Putin had not been to Sevastopol or Mariupol, a city invaded after a bloody battle last year.
‘The information from the Kremlin’s resources that Vladimir Putin visited Crimea and Mariupol is NOT true,’ claimed the channel which says it has insider sources.
In Crimea, a double of the president was noted with a short visit and solely for the sake of a video photo shoot.’
There have been repeated claims that Putin uses body doubles on some trips outside Moscow, or when there are many people around.
In January, General SVR also claimed that Putin’s visit to UFA involved a ‘body double’ and not the real president. It predicted: ‘Soon, the understudy will appear more and more often as president,’ said the channel. ‘The President’s health tends to worsen.’
In Ufa, the ‘president’ was seen paying his respects at the open coffin of iron-fisted Murtaza Rakhimov, ex-leader of oil-rich Russian republic Bashkortostan, who died aged 88. He also met the region’s head, Radiy Habirov.
Previously, in October, 2022, Major General Kyrylo Budanov, head of military intelligence, questioned whether the real Putin still existed.
Today Telegram channel General SVR insisted Putin had not been to Sevastopol or Mariupol, a city invaded after a bloody battle last year. Pictured: Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks during an annual extended meeting of the Board of the Russian Interior Ministry in Moscow on March 20, 2023)
Russian President Vladimir Putin (left) pictured with then-German Chancellor Angela Merkel in 2006
Major General Kyrylo Budanov, head of military intelligence (pictured) questioned ‘whether the real Putin still exists?’ Ukraine’s intelligence chief claims Putin is using at least three body doubles who have had plastic surgery to look like him
Budanov said the military intelligence service had detected Putin doubles in the past standing in for him on ‘special occasions’ – but added that now, it is ‘usual practice’ for the Russian president.
Budanov said: ‘We know specifically about three people that keep appearing, but how many there are, we don’t know. They all had plastic surgery to look alike.
‘The one thing that gives them away is their height. It’s visible in videos and pictures. Also gesturing, body language and earlobes, since they are unique for every person.’
A month prior, footage of Putin apparently showed him falling asleep during a meeting, coupled with claims he has complained about fatigue and shortness of breath to doctors, which raised fresh doubts over his health.
A body double was even on standby in case Putin was unable to attend the meeting, claimed Telegram channel General SVR, which has long claimed Putin is suffering serious health issues.
The video promotes the theory that Putin is using doppelgängers for trips he doesn’t want to make
Russian President Vladimir Putin is pictured at the Winter Olympics in 2014 (left) and chairing a metallurgy conference at the Kremlin on August 1, 2022 (right)
Same person? Putin is pictured delivering a speech in the Kremlin on April 11 2018, but Ukraine’s intelligence chief says the ear is different to Putin’s past appearances
While the Russian leader looked awkward as he came down the steps of his presidential plane in Tehran, Ukrainian sources noted he moved unusually quickly and was more alert than in prior public appearances
In August, Budanov had previously claimed that Putin was using body doubles, pointing to the president’s changing ears over the years as proof of his theory.
The 69-year-old Russian president’s health has been the topic of fierce discussion among commentators.
His close ally Nikolai Patrushev is said to have stood in for the president during his medical appointments.
He said in a TV appearance: ‘The picture, let’s say, of the ears, is different… And it’s like a fingerprint, each person’s ear picture is unique. It cannot be repeated.’
Budanov further alleged that Putin body doubles ‘have different habits, different mannerisms, different gaits, sometimes even different heights if you looked closely’.
The Major General had previously claimed a Vladimir Putin body ‘double’ may have been used for his arrival at a summit in Iran to meet Turkey’s president Erdogan in July 2022.
While the Russian leader looked awkward as he came down the steps of his presidential plane in Tehran, Ukrainian sources noted that he moved unusually quickly and was more alert than in prior public appearances.
The Russian premier looked animated when greeting the waiting party, before removing his jacket and clambering into a heavily armoured limousine.
Budanov said he was suspicious of Putin’s appearance in a live interview on Ukraine’s 1+1 news channel.
Ukrainian reports said Budanov suggested that a Putin lookalike could have flown to Tehran to meet with the presidents of Iran and Turkey.
‘I will only hint,’ he said. ‘Please look at the moment of Putin’s exit from the plane. Is it Putin at all?’
Putin said he was advised to use doubles in 2000 shortly after the war with Chechen rebels finished, leading to a rise in terror attacks across Russia
He denied years of rumours that he uses body doubles to avoid being assassinated, but admitted that he was once advised to use them
Putin addressed the idea of using body doubles himself in February 2020, when he admitted that officials had considered using doubles, but he claimed the idea was rejected.
‘I discarded the idea of any doubles,’ he said.
He was advised in the early 2000s when Russia was hit by terrorist attacks that a lookalike should take his place at events where the head of state might be at risk, he said.
‘This was during the toughest time of our war against terrorism,’ he said.
As Prime Minister and then as President, Putin oversaw the war against Islamist separatists from Chechnya between 1999 and 2000.
After Russia claimed victory, terror attacks increased in the Caucasus while bombers also targeted the country’s main cities.
‘The double would go where things were dodgy?’ asked Vandenko.
‘Well yes, go, put in appearances,’ Putin confirmed.
Body doubles were reportedly used by former Kremlin leaders, for example longtime Soviet supremos Josef Stalin and Leonid Brezhnev.
In 2009, people in Sochi did not believe that a walkabout by then President Dmitry Medvedev and prime minister Putin involved the real leaders. Medvedev said at the time: ‘We are not doubles, we are real.’