Ukraine Resurfaces Putin Body Double Claim, Asks if Russian Leader 'Exists'

A Ukrainian official has resurfaced allegations that multiple body doubles stand in for Russian President Vladimir Putin in instances that have become increasingly frequent.

Major General Kyrylo Budanov, the Ukrainian military intelligence chief, told the Daily Mail in an interview published over the weekend that Putin uses at least three body doubles who have allegedly received cosmetic surgery in order to look like him. He also asked if "the real Putin still exists" and questioned if the Russian president was still making key decisions in Russia's ongoing war in Ukraine.

Budanov's claim was also highlighted in a tweet on Monday from Ukraine's Defense Ministry. When contacted for confirmation, the Kremlin told Newsweek that the reports were "totally nonsense."

Suggestions that Putin may be using body doubles have emerged several times in recent years, though the Kremlin has not confirmed such reports. While unconfirmed, the claims underscore speculation that Putin may be suffering from poor health or that his long hold on power in Russia could be in peril as his Ukrainian invasion suffers repeated setbacks.

In early August, Ukrainian Major General Vadym Skibitsky told The Telegraph that Putin was "not in good health physically or mentally," and that members of his inner circle have begun "panicking about his health."

"He uses a lot of doubles...and sometimes it is difficult to detect if it is the real Putin or someone replacing him," Skibitsky said.

Putin's Alleged Body Doubles
Russian President Vladimir Putin gestures during an annual meeting with participants of the Valdai Discussion Club on October 27 in Moscow. A Ukrainian official has resurfaced allegations that multiple body doubles stand in for Putin in instances that have become increasingly frequent. Contributor/Getty Images

Shortly after Skibitsky made these comments, Budanov suggested on the Ukrainian TV channel Groshi that while suffering from his purported health ailments, Putin has been using body doubles to avoid having to appear in public. Budanov said that the Russian president's alleged doppelgängers have slight physical and behavioral variations.

"They have different habits, different mannerisms, different gaits, sometimes even different heights, if you look closely," he said.

Budanov again spoke about what he said were the telling differences in Putin's alleged doubles with the Daily Mail, saying that height was the strongest indicator.

"It's visible in videos and pictures," he said. "Also gesturing, body language and earlobes, since they are unique for every person."

Budanov added that Ukraine was aware of about three specific doubles that have repeatedly appeared, but noted that they couldn't be certain about the exact number of alleged Putin dupes. He declined to definitively speculate on whether Putin himself has fully disappeared either due to alleged health issues or internal power struggles.

Putin has publicly acknowledged that he has at the very least been offered a body double. During an interview with the Tass state-owned news agency in 2020, Putin said that he "discarded the idea of any doubles" during the early 2000s as Russia was engaged in the second Chechen war.

Update 11/3/22, 2:30 p.m. ET: This story has been updated with a comment from the Kremlin.