No, Putin Doesn’t Ride Bears

Propagandists have staged (and doctored) photos apparently in order to bolster Russia's presidential image.

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Person, Human, Bear
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Claim

A photograph shows Russian President Vladimir Putin riding a bear.

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Origin

In March 2022, as Russia continued its deadly attack on Ukraine, an old picture supposedly showing Russian President Vladimir Putin riding a bear was recirculated on social media:

This is not a genuine photograph but a digital composite created by combining at least two different pictures.

The image of Putin, for example, was taken from a different picture that showed the Russian president riding a horse in 2009. Here’s a comparison of the genuine photograph (left) and the doctored image (right):

The horse-riding photograph on the left is one of several released over the years by the Kremlin, apparently in order to bolster Putin’s masculine image. The New York Times reported on these photo-ops in 2021:

There are photo shoots, there are presidential photo shoots — and then there are Vladimir Putin presidential photo shoots. Rarely has the leader of a global power embraced the staged publicity still with such creative, yet clichéd, fervor, not just feeding the global desire for a caricature of himself, but actually creating it.

Cue, for example, his latest propaganda foray, released by the Kremlin … In a series of photos of Mr. Putin on a weekend jaunt to the snowy Siberian taiga, the 68-year-old president is shown in his usual favorite outdoor setting, displaying his connection to nature, manly toughness and appreciation of country. In the vastness of the largely empty landscape, he looms large. At least that was probably the idea.

This is not the only doctored image to show Putin riding a bear. An animated clip supposedly showing Putin riding a bear racked up tens of thousands of views in March 2022 on TikTok.

This video is also fake. Here’s the original footage of the bear before Putin was digitally inserted into it. 

Sources:

Friedman, Vanessa. “The Art of the Vladimir Putin Photo Shoot.” The New York Times, 23 Mar. 2021. NYTimes.com, https://www.nytimes.com/2021/03/23/style/vladimir-putin-siberia-photos.html.

Harding, Luke. “Vladimir Putin Hugs Polar Bear on Arctic Trip.” The Guardian, 29 Apr. 2010. The Guardian, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2010/apr/29/vladimir-putin-polar-bear-arctic.

“Vladimir Putin Burnished His Macho Image in New Action Man Vacation Pictures.” Newsweek, 5 Aug. 2017, https://www.newsweek.com/putin-poses-bare-chested-new-action-man-propaganda-pics-646910.