Vladimir Putin has an arsenal of body doubles to run Russia amid fears for his own life, a former spy chief has claimed. The Russian leader, who has been in power for more than two decades, is often replaced by doubles to attend public events and limit the risk of assassination attempts. Lt-Gen Valeriy Kondratiuk, ex-head of Ukraine’s military and foreign intelligence, also claims Putin has turned into a “madman” and a “tyrant” whose obsession with security has made him paranoid.
Several Ukrainian officials, including Ukraine’s military chief, have made the same claims in recent months, alleging the 70-year-old leader is using doppelgangers for his own safety.
Mr Kondratiuk told the Kyiv Post newspaper most of what the Russian people see is actually a double.
He told the Kyiv Post newspaper: “A person who has been in power for a long time, any tyrant, tries to take additional measures for his own security. In order to prevent terrorist acts during public events, such as visiting public places or meetings, he often uses doubles.”
The 52-year-old former spy added: “The real Putin is where he meets with the defence minister at a large table, where the distance between him and [Sergei] Shoigu is far enough.”
Yet “when he stands near the people at some events, awards – this role is played by doubles to reduce the risks of assassination attempts.”
However, Mr Kondratiuk ruled out the possibility of doppelgangers replacing Putin and running the Kremlin for him. He confirmed that the “madman” Putin is “behind this war” when speaking of the Russian war in Ukraine.
He continued: “He is personally responsible for the amount of grief and tragedy that has occurred because of his decisions. I don’t think any double would be as crazy and support it. If Putin is gone, then it’s crazy to support this war. I don’t even see anyone in Putin’s environment who would be interested in continuing his policy.”
Major General Kyrylo Budanov, head of military intelligence, also claimed Putin is using doubles to protect him against any threat. According to Mr Budanov, there are three doubles taking turns to replace the Russian leader.
He 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,” adding that the one thing that gives them away is their “height”.
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Telegram channel General SVR – which claims to be fed information by a Kremlin insider – claims that there are “obvious differences” in photos of Putin compared with others.
General SVR said: “During a public meeting with students…many noticed some oddities and physiological features of the ‘president’.
“A person similar to Putin, unlike the original, was absolutely not afraid to be near a large number of little-known and completely unfamiliar people, which is not at all typical for the president in the past few years.
“Obvious differences were observed in the face of pseudo-Putin and in the manner of his behaviour. The left cheekbone of the understudy was swollen and moved unnaturally with the ‘president’s’ facial expressions. An unnaturally hanging upper lip is the result of an unsuccessful ‘fitting’ of the understudy.”
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Former Kremlin leaders, such as longstanding Soviet leaders Josef Stalin and Leonid Brezhnev, frequently employed body doubles. In 2020, Putin rejected the offer to use body doubles for personal protection at the height of a conflict in Chechnya.
Speaking in an interview with the news agency Tass, the then-67-year-old former KGB officer said that it “came at the most difficult moment of fighting terrorism”, as separatists in Chechnya launched attacks.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky cast doubt about whether Putin is still alive.
“I don’t quite understand who to talk to and about what. I’m not sure that Russia’s president, who sometimes appears against the chroma key is really him,” Zelensky responded when asked about the possibility of peace talks.
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