When President Donald Trump meets Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, the two leaders are expected to discuss NATO, the Middle East and U.S.-Russia relations. But there’s one high-level personnel issue unlikely to be on the agenda.
While the summit will take place behind closed doors, many Russians have already decided the guy getting together with Trump will not be Putin, at least not the real Putin.
Everyone knows the longtime Kremlin boss used to be a “spook.” Now millions of Russians are convinced he’s a ghost and the person meeting with Trump is one of several carefully managed replacement Putins.
“People can see the difference,” said a Russian political insider. “But what difference does it make?”
Russia’s social media and tabloid press have been claiming for years that the original Putin has been body snatched. As evidence, they cite dramatic changes in the new Putin’s appearance, motor skills and the sound of his voice. Then there’s the sudden inability to speak fluent German, which Putin mastered during the Cold War as KGB liaison to the East German secret police.
Some popular Russian bloggers believe Putin was poisoned in a Kremlin coup in March 2015, when he vanished from public view for 10 days. After later reappearing—looking considerably different—to greet the president of Kyrgyzstan, it was reported that “his face was puffy and shiny, and eyes only able to partially open.”
Medical experts said at the time that Putin showed signs of cosmetic surgery and Botox injections. Which did little to dispel rumors of foul play or widespread suspicion his place had been taken by a-half dozen Kremlin-controlled look-alikes.
The women in Putin’s life might offer clarity on the subject, if they were talking. His ex-wife Ludmilla, a former Aeroflot flight attendant, has remarried, changed her name, and moved to France. Olympic gold-medal gymnast Alina Kabaeva, said to be an ongoing romantic interest and the mother of Putin’s love child, has also remained silent.
Keep in mind the latest version of Putin, whoever he is, won a recent presidential election with more than 75 percent of the vote. In other words a sizable portion of Russia’s voting public cast their ballots for someone they knew was probably not the man they voted for, or maybe he was.
Russian leaders have always been a mystery to the masses. The czars only showed themselves to their subjects under carefully controlled circumstances. Communist officials operated in the same way, often staying hidden inside the Kremlin or in limited-access dacha compounds outside of Moscow.
In typical fashion Putin has never put his personal life on display. “I have a private life in which I do not permit interference,” he once said. “It must be respected.”
Given the nature of one-party rule, Russia has a long history of those in charge keeping body doubles around to take a bullet for the boss. Putin certainly is no different. What is different is that many Russians these days think the body doubles may be running the country.
If that’s true, it presents all kinds of interesting possibilities, particularly in Washington, where the infamous Russia probe is into its second year of trying to prove that Donald Trump allegedly colluded with someone who might not even be there.
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