The Conspiracy Theory Of Vladimir Putin's Body Double Explained

Controversial Russian President Vladimir Putin, the man behind the 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine, has held power in his country in one form or another pretty much since the year 2000, and that seems unlikely to change anytime soon. That makes the former KGB agent the longest-serving Russian leader since Stalin, according to the BBC. It's naturally risky when a world leader is as reviled as Putin both at home and abroad. Employing a body double could be an effective safety measure for Putin, but does he really use one? One unconfirmed conspiracy theory says that's the case.

It's not without merit that Vladimir Putin may use body doubles for certain photo ops and public appearances. So much so, a reporter from the Russian TASS news agency showed the Russian President all the internet search results relating to whether or not that might be true. The journalist even asked Putin in person, "Are you real?" to which Putin responded "Yes," according to France24. (But if he were really a double that's exactly what he would say.) To be clear, there's really no evidence Putin protects himself with a lookalike.

There's precedent

Although there's really no proof that Vladimir Putin uses body doubles and lookalikes for certain photo ops and public appearances, the idea that a contentious world leader might make such a move is not so outlandish. Similar rumors have swirled around a number of popular and unpopular leaders and monarchs for decades. Stalin himself is said to have used one, so you can see where Putin's advisor may have swiped the idea. Otherwise, here are just a few of the most common examples of supposed world leader lookalikes, according to WION News.

Ranging from North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, who some say in fact may have died, to Britain's Queen Elizabeth, and former American FLOTUS Melania Trump, reasons why current, former, or even dead world leaders might employ such a trick remain largely the same: to take the load off as far as public engagements and duties are concerned, or to keep themselves safe from assassination attempts. Another common theme is that the leader themselves has suddenly died, and a doppelgänger is found by the regime in power.

The Second Chechen War

Rumors that Russian President Vladimir Putin protects himself with a body double began right after he took office the first time, during the Russian-Chechnya war, sometimes called the Second Chechen War, according to History. In this highly contentious Russian military offensive, in late 1999 Putin ordered his forces into the former Soviet republic, ostensibly to support separatists wishing to remain loyal to Moscow and in retaliation for alleged Russian terrorist attacks said to be perpetrated in Russia by Chechen militants.

In the view of many international scholars and policymakers though, Putin's move was essentially a flex on this recently liberated young democracy and the Muslim majority that wished to distance themselves from the Kremlin, per The Guardian. Because of this Putin risked retaliation, and the idea really was floated to employ imposters for public appearances to keep the Russian president safe. He turned it down. As Radio Free Europe reports, Putin said, "I refused to have doubles. It was during the most difficult time of the fight against terrorism."

Did Putin die in 2015?

Despite this denial, there's nothing like rumors that Putin secretly died to add fuel to the flame that the person we see may or may not be real. That's exactly what happened in 2015, when Russian President Vladimir Putin disappeared from public view in March of that year, only to reemerge some days later, according to Vox. Theories as to what happened to the Russian president interim ranged from illness and death to a sort of paternity leave — he may have simply taken some time off for the birth of a love child (via Vox).

To quash such speculation, the Kremlin released footage of Putin, but that wasn't enough: Enterprising internet sleuths noticed that Putin was wearing similar clothing in each appearance, among other discrepancies. Putin did reappear at state functions and during other kinds of official business, of course, but some speculate he wasn't the real one, or if he was, he may have had plastic surgery. When asked about the controversy, Brookings Institution's Hannah Thoburn told Vox, "For all we know, he probably has the flu, or just wanted to hang out with his daughters or something. You never know what it is."

Who are The Musketeers?

After Putin ordered the invasion of Ukraine, United States Senator Lindsey Graham, a Republican from South Carolina, encouraged "somebody in Russia to take [Putin] out," via the New York Post. Which would be easier said than done, in the instance of Putin. One reason why that's the case are the "Musketeers," or Putin's personal bodyguards, an elite group of officers belonging to Russia's Federal Protective Service, or FSO — think something like the United States' Secret Service. The fact that Putin is commonly photographed surrounded by men, and often at a distance, adds further credence that the Putin we see — or even occasionally see — is not the real one.

This may also explain why Putin's looks vary somewhat from photograph to photograph, according to some. Making matters worse, Putin played things extra safe during the coronavirus pandemic, donning a hazmat suit at one point to visit a hospital. Otherwise, he tends to appear in pictures at a great length from other world leaders. This could be an effort to dodge serious illness, or it could be because it's not the real Putin. What's more, the Russian President most often travels in heavily armored vehicles in which he remains obscured from view.

Putin provides much conspiracy fodder

Even though it's highly unlikely that Vladimir Putin a) died and was replaced with an imposter or b) uses an interloper in certain public instances for safety, it's certainly not the only example of a conspiracy theory with the Russian leader at the center of it. Other examples include baggy areas under his eyes that tend to come and go, the fact his command of the German language seems to fluctuate, or that he had plastic surgery, according to France 24. But that's not all.

One pretty well-substantiated theory about Vladimir Putin, however, is that Putin is not Russian at all, but instead, he was born in the former Soviet Republic of Georgia, and his mother may still alive. Nobody knows for sure. All we can do at this point is to take Putin's word for it when he claims he doesn't use body doubles. Of this theory, among many others, Putin said, "It's boring without gossip," per France 24.