Vladimir Putin walks up a hill in Siberia. File / AP
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.
Vladimir Putin meets with children from orphanages and large and low-income families as he visits the Dream Island amusement park in Moscow on Thursday. AFP
But during an interview with TASS news agency aired on Thursday, 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.
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.
In the early 2000s, Russia was fighting a war against separatists in Chechnya who also launched attacks elsewhere in the country. Putin visited troops in Chechnya hours after predecessor Boris Yeltsin stepped down on Dec.31, 1999. He later said that a helicopter he was using came under fire during that trip.
Putin also made several other trips to Chechnya while fighting was still raging there. During one of those trips in March 2000, Putin flew into Chechnya in the seat of a second pilot in a fighter jet. Putin didn't elaborate on his motives behind rejecting the proposal to have body doubles.
Russian President Vladimir Putin will hold talks with Pope Francis on Thursday, a day before Ukraine’s Catholic leaders meet at the Vatican to discuss the crisis in their country,
A judo blackbelt, Putin has long been keen to show off his athletic prowess, including by working out with Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, hitting the ski slopes in Sochi or diving to the bottom of the Black Sea.
President Donald Trump said he held “very positive” talks on Friday with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin on the crisis in oil-rich Venezuela, where Washington is pushing to oust the Moscow-backed president.
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