The internet is buzzing with rumors that Russian President Vladimir Putin is seriously ill and using a body double to conceal it.
Claims that Putin uses a body double have been circulating for years. There’s recently been a significant increase in such reports, but evidence is scant.
The latest round of rumors that a body double is representing Putin was reportedly spurred by a Ukrainian military intelligence official. Over the weekend, the Daily Mail reported that a Ukrainian official claimed Putin used a body double during a recent trip to Iran, where he met with Iranian leaders and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
The trip marks the first time Putin has left Russia since invading Ukraine in February. The invasion has largely isolated Russia from the rest of the world.
In a television appearance, Ukrainian Major General Kyrylo Budanov suggested that Putin used a stand-in during the trip.
“I will only hint,” he reportedly said. “Please look at the moment of Putin’s exit from the plane. Is it Putin at all?”
Though purely speculative, Budanov’s statement sparked a series of stories.
Rumors have been flying for months that Putin has a serious, potentially fatal illness. The body double claims are partly inspired by reports that his health is failing. The conspiracy theory holds that Putin’s using a body double to conceal his illness.
Last week, Central Intelligence Agency Director William Burns strongly suggested that speculation Putin is sick is false.
Actually, Putin is “entirely too healthy,” Burns said, though he noted that he wasn’t communicating a “formal intelligence judgment.”
On Monday, the Daily Mail followed up its initial story about Putin’s supposed body double with a report claiming that the Russian dictator suffered a serious health scare after the trip. It said doctors spent hours at Putin is bedside nursing him back to health over the weekend.
“Putin may be replaced by a body double at meetings this week,” the Daily Mail added.
The story is based on a claim made by the General SVR Telegram channel, which purports to track Putin’s health.
General SVR further claimed that “deepfake technology” may be used to doctor footage of the body double attending events in Putin’s stead. There’s no evidence that the channel is a legitimate source of intelligence about Putin’s health or has any sourcing within the Kremlin.
It also arguably insinuated that Putin may not survive much longer. “So it may turn out that ‘too healthy’ Putin will turn out to be ‘too alive’ in the foreseeable future,” it wrote in a nod to CIA Director Burns’ statement about Putin’s health.
The rumor about Putin’s body double is all over the internet. The Daily Dot found it on Twitter, Facebook, and more fringe platforms. A YouTube video from late May that featured claims about Putin’s health and use of a body double has 375,000 views.
The claim that Putin uses a double has been around for years. Most conspiracy theories about body doubles are purely based on wild conjecture. This one does appear to have some basis in fact, however.
In 2020, Reuters reported that Putin said he was offered the chance to use one for security purposes in the early 2000s, but refused.
“I declined these body doubles,” Putin reportedly said.
So although the evidence that Putin is currently using a body double is far from conclusive, there is at least some rational basis for this particular conspiracy theory.