Russian President Vladimir Putin has acknowledged that he was offered the chance to use a body double to make appearances in public for security reasons, but said he declined the offer and never used one.
Putin, 67, who has dominated Russian politics for more than two decades, has long been the subject of conspiracy theories in Russia – all of them unsubstantiated – that he uses a body double or even a small army of them.
One of the more elaborate theories compares photographs of Putin over the years, claiming to have identified a number of different individuals posing as him.
But during an interview with Tass news agency aired yesterday, Putin was shown a list of popular Internet searches purportedly associated with his name, one of which was entitled “Putin body double evidence”.
Asked “Are you real?” by the interviewer, Putin replied “Yes” before going on to deny that he uses a lookalike for public appearances for his own safety.
But he said he had been offered the opportunity.
“I declined these body doubles. This (the offer) was during the most difficult periods of the fight against terrorism,” Putin said, adding that he was referring to the beginning of the 2000s.
Russia fought a war in the southern Muslim majority region of Chechnya in the early years of Putin’s first term and was frequently targeted in attacks by Islamist militant groups.
Putin said in the same interview that he didn’t use a mobile phone.
He had access to a special official phone, he said, that could connect with any number he wanted.
Yesterday the president inspected Russia’s answer to Disneyland, the country’s first large-scale indoor theme park which Moscow says will be the biggest of its kind in Europe when it opens tomorrow.
The theme park, called “Ostrov Mechty” – or Dream Island – is built in the shape of a toy castle that spreads across 30 hectares in an industrial neighbourhood in southern Moscow and is filled with rides, attractions and restaurants.
Joined by Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin, Putin strolled through the park inspecting a scale model of the facility and stopping to take pictures with a group of disadvantaged children brought in for his visit.
Russia has strived in recent years to build bigger and better facilities than the West to show that it remains a force to be reckoned with, and has prided itself on major construction and infrastructure projects.
Dream Island is no exception.
Municipal authorities say it is the largest indoor theme park of its kind in Europe and that its main glass dome is several times larger than the dome at the Galeries Lafayette in Paris and more than double the size of one atop the German Reichstag in Berlin.
The new facility has drawn criticism from some quarters however for its extravagance and unusual design and popular blogger Ilya Varlamov ranked it seventh on his list of Russia’s top 100 ugliest buildings.
Russia remains under Western sanctions over its 2014 annexation of Crimea from Ukraine and has struggled to find meaningful economic growth.
But it has pressed ahead with big infrastructure projects regardless.
In 2014 it opened what it said was the largest shopping mall in Europe, and Putin last year opened a rail route linking Russia’s two biggest cities to Crimea over a giant new bridge.
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