In the course of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, both Vladimir Putin and Volodymyr Zelensky they have been accused of hiding in a bunker and of staging their public presences through cinematic techniques or with the help of doubles. The recent visit to Mariupol has triggered a series of “analyses” to insinuate or support with certainty that the Kremlin leader has never set foot in the occupied Ukrainian territory, comparing some frames that portray him on various occasions.
For those in a hurry
- Comparison images are shown in order to argue that a Putin impersonator showed up in Mariupol.
- The images used show dates and places where they would have been taken, but they are incorrect.
- Particular differences are highlighted by the fact that some images are years old. Vladimir Putin, in fact, has aged.
- One of the images was specially chosen as he grimaces. Some of the signs in the same image are evident in another Kremlin corporate video from 2022.
- The people present with Putin in Mariupol are not actors, but pro-Russian inhabitants identified by the Ukrainians of Mariupol itself.
Between the pictures shared online, in support of the theory, we find the one published by the Russian Telegram channel “Vatneo Boloto” («cotton swamp», which presents itself as «the most read opposition channel on Telegram») with three frames comparing Vladimir Putin on three occasions: in Moscow on 21 February 2023, in Sevastopol (Crimea) on 18 March and finally in Mariupol on March 19th.
In reality, the Telegram channel takes its cue from the image posted by Anton Gerashchenkoadviser to the Ukrainian Ministry of Internal Affairs.
The second of these images is reproduced in another comparison with a fourth:
The first picture
The incorrectness of the comparison starts from the first image, where it is claimed that it was taken in Moscow on February 21, 2023. We find the same image published on the website of the BBC in an article by February 26, 2020over three years before the visit to Mariupol.
A search on TinEye returns the same result, confirming that an older image was used for the comparison.
The second picture
The image already starts with an error, as the central screenshot is not from a shot in Sevastopol on March 18, but in Mariupol. Not only that: the image has been flipped horizontally to facilitate the “comparison”. The freeze frame concerns the visit of the Russian leader to the newly built apartments in Mariupol, as we can see from the video of Exported (IZ.ru) released on March 19, 2023.
The screenshot captures a moment in which Vladimir Putin grimaces, highlighting features that are not normally highlighted during institutional videos. Here are more frames, the first before the one used in the comparison followed by two following as he leaves the apartment.
Speaking of grimaces, we can observe those shown by the Russian President during the private meeting in the Kremlin with Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu last April 2022. On that occasion, Vladimir Putin showed an evident double chin like the one indicated in the comparison as “proof” that something is not right.
Wanting to make a comparison between a frame of the video from 2022 (from the Youtube channel of AFP) and that of 2023 (from Exported), the right ear is compatible.
The third picture
The comparison with the third image is useless, as it appears to be a screenshot taken from the video of the visit to Mariupol, present in the same clip released by Exported (IZ.ru).
The fourth image
The second image is compared with a fourth, but this too is not recent at all. We find it published, for example, in an article by February 5, 2020:
The shot dates back to February 5, 2020, as reported on Alamyand concerns the meeting between Vladimir Putin and the new US ambassador to Russia John Sullivan.
The theory of actors
It’s not the first time Putin has met people at close range. We recall the case of the meeting with some women of the flight crews of Russian airlines, where a conspiracy theory about her digitally inserted presence had been spread due to a low-resolution video. Another theory circulated was that of the alleged “actress” who follows him in various public meetings, this too denied by the facts. The same goes for the people present at the meeting in Mariupol, of whom they know each other the identities as reconstructed by the Ukrainian media through information provided by members of a group described as the “Mariupol resistance movement”.
According to reports by the Ukrainian media, the people identified would be known local pro-Russians and are accused of having collaborated with the occupiers, obtaining permission to loot and being the first to receive a home in the new complex. It seems that un account Instagram was targeted by Ukrainians as it appears to belong to one of those present: “Дмитрий Лотков”, translated “Dmitry Lotkov”, indicated in the photo above right after the woman.
The image comparison used to claim that Putin sent a lookalike to Mariupol is incorrect. The same ones have been specially selected to force the narration, indicating the wrong places and dates. The story of the actors is denied by the Ukrainians themselves, as the people featured in the Mariupol video have been identified as pro-Russian citizens of Mariupol who collaborated with the occupiers.
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