No, these photos aren’t proof that Vladimir Putin is planting actors during official visits
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Lots of people online have been circulating two photos of Russian President Vladimir Putin since May 26, claiming that they provide proof that, during official visits, the Russian president isn’t meeting and greeting fishermen and injured soldiers but actors or even government agents playing those roles. But these claims are not substantiated. We took a closer look.
If you only have a minute
- Since May 26, Twitter accounts opposed to the Kremlin have been circulating two photos of Russian President Vladimir Putin on official visits. In one, he meets with injured soldiers, in the other, with fishermen. However, these posts claim that these photos offer proof that the people in the photos aren’t civilians, but rather actors or government agents. These images have since garnered 50,000 likes.
- However, these claims don’t hold water. We dug into the images and discovered the identities of the people featured – and there is no sign that they are actors or agents.
The fact-check, in detail
"When he meets with 'ordinary Russians', they are always represented by trusted actors," says one Tweet. “Bodyguards routinely act as workers/public," claims another. “Putin met with a wounded soldier who, by a strange coincidence, was also a factory worker he previously met,” reads a third. Since May 26, a number of Twitter accounts opposed to Vladimir Putin have been circulating two photos showing the Russian president meeting civilians during official visits.
These Twitter accounts claim to have identified the exact same people in photos of other past official visits to different locations. They say this is proof that the people are actually actors or even Putin’s bodyguards, helping the president to stage official visits.
An injured soldier that Putin already met back in 2017?
The first photo was supposedly taken when Putin visited a hospital in Moscow to meet soldiers injured in the war in Ukraine. Several Twitter accounts claim that one of the soldiers in this photo is the same person who appeared in a 2017 photo taken during another one of the Russian president’s official visits. These accounts claim that the injured soldier is an actor, a bodyguard or even an FSB (Russian Federal Security Service) agent.
To verify these claims, we ran these two images through a reverse image search (click here to find out how). The first photo was indeed taken when the Russian president visited a hospital in Moscow on May 25, 2022. This video, published the same day by British tabloid The Sun, features another angle of the face of the injured soldier.
From this angle, the face of the injured soldier doesn’t look anything like the person who Putin met back in 2017. For example, their hair and the shape of their eyebrows are very different.
Thanks to our reverse image search, we found the original image of the meeting between Putin and the person suspected to be an actor who also played the role of the injured soldier. The photo was published on November 9, 2017 on the Kremlin’s official site. On that day, the Russian president had met workers at Factory 4K3, which manufactures industrial compressors and is located in the Chelyabinsk region.
A video of this meeting was posted on the same site. In the video, the man asks Putin a question and says that his name is Ravil Dautov (or "Равиль Даутов" in the Cyrillic alphabet).
On Factory 4K3’s website, we found another video featuring Ravil Dautov. In this video, published March 17, 2020, three years after Putin’s visit, Dautov is introduced as “assembly line manager”.
This makes it pretty certain that Dautov is indeed a worker at this factory in Tcheliabinsk and not a bodyguard or actor who then went on to play the role of the injured soldier.
Government agents disguised as fishermen?
Several Tweets, similar to this first example, claim that Putin met on several occasions with “fake fishermen”, who were actually government agents.
To look into this second allegation, we carried out another reverse image search, which helped us find the origin of these two photos.
The photo on the left was published on September 10 on the Kremlin’s website. The image shows Putin and former president Dmitri Medvedev’s visit to meet fishermen in the Novgorod region.
The second image also appears on the Kremlin’s website. It’s from January 7, 2017. It shows some people who also appeared in the photo taken in September 2016. But contrary to the claims made on Twitter, the people in the photo are unlikely to be government agents.
The Kremlin site says that the second photo was taken during Christmas mass in the Novgorod Cathedral and that, during that event, Putin again with fishermen from the region who he had first met in 2016. This explains why the men would appear in both photos.
However, our reverse image search also pulled up an article from January 10 by the NGO Global Voices. This article talks about the two images, explaining that the Kremlin claimed that the two meetings were chance encounters between Putin and the Novgorod fishermen.
However, the article says that, in reality, the event was planned in advance so that Putin would meet “local sympathisers”, like Larisa Sergukhina, who is both an entrepreneur in the fishing industry and a pro-Putin activist.
So even though there is no evidence that Sergukhina was a government agent, her meeting with the president was organised for political aims.