As Russian President Vladimir Putin made a surprise visit to Russian-occupied regions in Ukraine in March 2023, photographs and video footage of him led to renewed rumors about his use of a body double.
On March 20, 2023, a Twitter account used by Anton Gerashchenko, an advisor to the Minister of Internal Affairs of Ukraine, posted a series of photographs of Putin. The tweet asked, "Which one do you think is the real one?" It compared pictures of Putin purportedly taken in early 2023, and then in March 2023 in Ukrainian territories, in which his chin in the center image looked noticeably different from the other two.
We also received queries from our readers who wondered if such images proved that Putin was using a body double. One reader pointed out, "His recent public appearance in Ukraine, with how close Putin was to other people, when he usually keeps a clear distance from everyone, has the rumor mill spinning."
The center image in which Putin's chin appears to be sunken into his neck is a screenshot of a video in which he is touring Mariupol, and not Sevastopol as the tweet claimed. We found the footage with the exact shots in a New York Times video that cites the original source as being Russian state media.
A screenshot from the video shows the chin exactly as it is depicted in the above tweet. From this angle it indeed appears that Putin looks very different.
(Screenshot via New York Times)
However, as he turns his head in the next frame, it is clear that the man in this video is Putin and not a body double. This next shot is visibly Putin, and the change in his chin can be attributed to the angle of the shot, as well as the effects of aging.
(Screenshot via New York Times)
Indeed, the first and third photographs in the above tweet are also of Putin. The third image is a screenshot from his visit to Russian-occupied Mariupol as well, and can be seen at the 1:58 mark in the video below:
The same video later shows Putin inside a building where the portion of the image showing his chin was captured as a screenshot.
The very first image is taken from a speech Putin made in 2020, around three years ago, and not in early 2023 as the tweet claimed. The original photograph can be found on Russian news agency website TASS. The age of the photo could also explain the difference in Putin's chin from then and 2023.
While this indeed is Putin visiting Mariupol, based on the range of photographic and video evidence, claims that he uses body doubles are not new. While these claims have never been proven, they have been repeated by Ukrainian officials and have spread online ever since the Russian invasion of Ukraine began.
Putin is not the only world leader to be subject to such speculation. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, and U.S. President Joe Biden among others, have faced similar claims. We have often reported on "body doubles" as a popular type of conspiracy theory that crops up on the internet when a famous person has a health issue. Putin has reportedly been paranoid about contracting COVID-19 in recent years, adding fuel to claims that he has used a body double in public appearances.
However, the above photographs do not prove that he was using a double on this particular trip, as different shots from the same footage prove that the man who was visiting occupied Mariupol was indeed Putin, and the changes in his appearance can be largely attributed to age and camera angles. We thus rate this claim as "False."