Vladimir Putin is consolidating support in Russia following last week’s short-lived rebellion by Wagner group chief Yevgeny Prigozhin in a rare meet-and-greet that saw him mobbed by a crowd as he posed for selfies with young girls.
Stunning footage from the event – a presidential appearance during a trip to the city of Derbent in the Dagestan region of southern Russia – showed how he dove into a nighttime crowd like a Hollywood actor at a red carpet show.
Seemingly imbued with fresh energy after averting a small scale civil war last week, the normally stoic and isolated Putin was uncharacteristically personable, shaking hands and planting kisses on the head of a young teenage girl who gushed over him and pleaded with her mother to snap a photo of her with the president.
In another bizarre moment he shakes hands with – and appears to adjust something on the uniform of – an officer carrying what may be his nuclear briefcase.
He has not greeted his security apparatchiks in such a way previously.
The scene was in marked variance to the extreme measures of the last few years which have enforced strict quarantines for anyone outside of Putin’s close circle before meeting with him.
His transformative behaviour has led many, including senior Russian figures, to fuel speculation that Putin greeting adoring fans in Dagestan was in fact a body double.
Vladimir Putin took part in a rare meet-and-greet that saw him mobbed by a crowd as he posed for selfies with young girls
Russian president Vladimir Putin is seen snapping a selfie with an adoring teen from Dagestan
The normally stoic and isolated Putin was uncharacteristically personable, shaking hands and planting kisses on the head of a young teenage girl
Putin has not been seen greeting crowds in such a way since before the pandemic
In another bizarre moment he shook hands with – and appeared to adjust something on the uniform of – an officer carrying what may be his nuclear briefcase
It comes as a recent picture of Putin with Chechen republic head Ramzan Kadyrov showed the president appearing bloated with mottled skin.
A longtime Moscow diplomat said today: ‘It is getting impossible to believe that there is only one Putin.
‘There are several – very good lookalikes, yet they behave somewhat differently.
‘This one diving into the crowd in Dagestan behaves differently to the traditional Putin.’
Commentator Viktor Alksnis, a Soviet military tactician and politician who is now a Western-based analyst known as the Black Colonel, said: ‘Why is Putin meeting with visitors in the Kremlin after their two-week quarantine and at a great distance, while in Derbent is calmly into the crowd and even hugs and kisses some citizens?
‘How can the physical security of the president be ensured under such conditions?
‘Something is not right here. It looks like a theatrical production in which Putin is not really Putin.’
And pro-war Russian nationalist and former FSB colonel Igor ‘Strelkov’ Girkin declared for certain that it was a Putin double in Dagestan some 1,250 miles south of Moscow.
‘A person vaguely resembling the president – and not at all requiring compliance with the two-week quarantine necessary to get an appointment with [Putin] – was walking around Derbent,’ he said.
Another explanation may be that Putin flew to the remote region in the Caucasus to visit a city where a presidential tour is a major occasion and the crowd would be highly enthusiastic.
His former speechwriter Abbas Gallyamov said: ‘Putin needs a picture surrounded by people so much now that for this he even forgot about Covid, quarantine and social distance….
‘Apparently, it was impossible to provide an enthusiastic reception in Moscow or any other Russian region, so he had to fly to [Dagestan].
‘Here….it is easier to organise an enthusiastic crowd.’
Fans clamour to meet and greet Vladimir Putin as he tours the city of Derbent in Dagestan
Putin parts members of his security team to greet adoring fans
A recent picture of Putin with Chechen republic head Ramzan Kadyrov showed Putin appearing bloated with mottled skin
Independent news outlet Agentstvo said it was the first time since before the pandemic that Putin had been seen in such a crowd.
‘For the first time since March 2020, the president did not keep his distance and even kissed the child,’ said the outlet’s Telegram channel.
‘At the same time, two weeks ago, all the guests who met with him continued to strictly observe quarantine.’
Kirill Martynov, editor of independent Novaya Gazeta Europe, said: ‘This is all very strange.
‘The place of meeting is strange, as is Putin hugging people all of a sudden. He normally doesn’t do that. Where is the [long] table? It’s a riddle.
‘I really don’t like stupid conspiracy theories but the feeling that there are two Putins is growing.
‘It might be the same person, but different behaviour models. One sits in quarantine, one can be hugged in Derbent.’
Malyuta Skuratov Telegram channel reported: ‘It is much easier to believe that this is a double than that Putin dared to approach a crowd of people who apparently were not in quarantine.’
Yet it was also possible that the entire rent-a-crowd had been quarantined ahead of his visit.
Telegram channel General SVR – which claims almost all recent Putin appearances have been by body doubles due to him suffering from cancer and other health problems – said: ‘The doppelgänger hugged and kissed with absolutely unfamiliar old women and young ladies, including, apparently, minors, and the number of handshakes of the president’s double with strangers exceeded all reasonable limits…
‘In general, the show was a success, ”Putin” in Derbent was greeted more emotionally than Kim Jong-un.’
The channel claims that actors have undergone plastic surgery to resemble Putin and are being deployed when to meet crowds of people or when the president is incapacitated.