- Kyrylo Budanov said there may be many reasons why Putin would use doubles
A Ukrainian spy chief has trolled Russia by suggesting Vladimir Putin is dead and has been using doppelgängers in his place for the past year.
Major-General Kyrylo Budanov said he is not certain that the Russian President, who has been plagued by reports of ill health, is still alive.
In an interview with Anzhelika Rudenko of Radio Svoboda, the spymaster, who is known to make controversial remarks, said: ‘The Putin who everyone used to know was last seen around June 26, 2022.’
Rudenko then asked: ‘So he is either not alive, or else he is in a really bad health state?’
Budanov replied: ‘Or he doesn’t want to appear. There might be so many different reasons.’
Budanov, 37, referenced a recent video where Putin was seen glancing at his watch on his left wrist only to realise it was on the hand on which it routinely sits.
He was seen later in the meeting taking off the watch, believed to be a £12,500 Russian-made Raketa, and fidgeting with it.
The meeting took place the day before Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin’s private plane crashed in Russia, two months after his failed coup attempt against Putin.
Russian authorities have since reported that Prigozhin died in the crash and Putin has strongly denied accusations that he had a hand in the death.
Budanov was asked in the Radio Svoboda interview: ‘Is this a real Putin?’
He replied: ‘Let’s leave it to everyone to decide, so everyone leaves it to their own fantasy.’
The presenter said she thought it was a Putin body double, which Budanov agreed with.
Asked directly if Putin was alive or not, Budanov calmly replied: ‘I don’t know what to answer you.’
In an interview with ABC News in January, Budanov addressed the rumours of Putin’s ill health.
‘He has been sick for a long time. I am sure he has cancer,’ Budanov said.
‘I think he will die very quickly. I hope very soon.’
Two weeks later, Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky also cast doubt on whether Putin was still alive.
In October last year, Budanov, Ukraine’s head of military intelligence, questioned whether the real Putin still existed.
He said the military intelligence service had detected Putin doubles in the past standing in for him on ‘special occasions’ – but added that now it is ‘usual practice’ for the Russian President.
Budanov 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.
‘The one thing that gives them away is their height. It’s visible in videos and pictures. Also gesturing, body language and earlobes, since they are unique for every person.’
A viral video earlier this year seized on speculation that Putin’s only trip so far to newly-invaded territory in Mariupol on March 19 was performed by a doppelgänger, and asked: ‘Who is ruling Russia?’
It is unclear who made the footage but it appeared to be aimed at reaching Russians who rely on uber-loyalist state media for their news.
The producers of the video said that a specialist noticed differences in the Russian President’s appearance, like the ledge on his earlobe, a mole, or his wrinkles that ‘constantly change’.
Rumours are rife that Putin ‘understudies’ – who have undergone plastic surgery to resemble him – are deployed increasingly as his health worsens amid rumours of cancer and early stage Parkinson’s.
For the Russian President’s Mariupol visit, the video claims ‘they forgot to put in his jaw’ as it looks different to Putin’s and also questions if the ‘double’ has false teeth.
On March 20, Kyiv official Anton Gerashchenko posted three images of Putin’s chin and questioned whether they belonged to the same man.
The Interior Minister advisor wrote: ‘What’s up with your chin, Putin?
‘Looks like lately his make-up artists (i.e. for the recent trips of the bunker man to the occupied Crimea and Mariupol) had to work with quite a low-quality copy, not even a double but its copy. I wonder which one of them was real?’
One picture showed Putin, 70, a month earlier in an address to the Federal Assembly in Moscow.
Another captured his reported visit to naval port Sevastopol in Crimea on March 18.
A third was taken from footage released the following day, showing Putin in war-blitzed Mariupol.
The first image showed his chin tight and precise, but the image in Sevastopol – grabbed from Ukraine in 2014 – depicted a sagging chin, while the Mariupol chin appears firmer, but less so than in the Moscow picture.
The Telegram channel General SVR insisted Putin had not been to Sevastopol or Mariupol, a city that was heavily shelled in the early stages of the war.
‘The information from the Kremlin’s resources that Vladimir Putin visited Crimea and Mariupol is NOT true,’ claimed the channel, which said it has insider sources.
‘In Crimea, a double of the President was noted with a short visit and solely for the sake of a video photo shoot.’
There have been repeated claims that Putin uses body doubles on some trips outside of Moscow, or when there are many people around.
In January, General SVR also claimed that Putin’s visit to Ufa in Russia involved a body double and not the real President.
It predicted: ‘Soon, the understudy will appear more and more often as President. The president’s health tends to worsen.’
In Ufa, the President was seen paying his respects at the open coffin of iron-fisted Murtaza Rakhimov, ex-leader of oil-rich Russian republic Bashkortostan, who died aged 88. He also met the region’s head, Radiy Habirov.
In September last year, footage emerged of Putin apparently showing him falling asleep during a meeting, coupled with claims he has complained about fatigue and shortness of breath to doctors, which raised fresh doubts over his health.
A body double was even on standby in case Putin was unable to attend the meeting, claimed Telegram channel General SVR, which has speculated for some time that the leader is suffering from serious health issues.
The previous month, Budanov had claimed that Putin was using body doubles, pointing to the President’s changing ears over the years as proof of his theory.
The 70-year-old’s health has been the topic of fierce discussion among commentators.
His close ally Nikolai Patrushev is said to have stood in for the President during his medical appointments.
Budanov said in a TV appearance: ‘The picture, let’s say, of the ears, is different… And it’s like a fingerprint, each person’s ear picture is unique. It cannot be repeated.’
He further alleged that Putin body doubles ‘have different habits, different mannerisms, different gaits, sometimes even different heights if you looked closely’.
The Major General had previously claimed a Putin body double may have been used for his arrival at a summit in Iran to meet Turkey’s President Erdogan in July 2022.
While the Russian leader looked awkward as he came down the steps of his presidential plane in Tehran, Ukrainian sources noted that he moved unusually quickly and was more alert than in prior public appearances.
The Russian premier looked animated when greeting the waiting party, before removing his jacket and clambering into a heavily armoured limousine.
Budanov said he was suspicious of Putin’s appearance in a live interview on Ukraine’s 1+1 news channel.
He suggested that a Putin lookalike could have flown to Tehran to meet with the Presidents of Iran and Turkey.
‘I will only hint,’ he said. ‘Please look at the moment of Putin’s exit from the plane. Is it Putin at all?’