AFTER years of rumours about cancer, tremors, shakes and coughing at public appearances, Vladimir Putin has a new lease of life – or has he?
Because rumours are now sweeping Russia that Mad Vlad is not ill — he’s dead.
An artificial intelligence investigation analysing Putin’s facial features, gait and speech have concluded at least two body doubles have been taking his place.
And his spokesman issued an extraordinary denial after an eminent professor and Kremlin “insiders” claimed Putin had died of a heart attack on October 26.
But the categoric slapdown has failed to curb swirling rumours that unusually sprightly fake Vlads have been deployed by ruthless cronies left in a power vacuum by his sudden demise.
An authoritative report by major Japanese TV network TBS used the latest AI to examine facial recognition and body movement.
Voice analysis from the despot’s public appearances by Japan’s respected Institute of Audio Communication Laboratory also supported claims that doppelgangers were in play.
‘Corpse in storage’
Body double stories have circulated for years but were given credence — as the Putin health rumours spiralled earlier this year — by the Japanese team’s investigation.
It concluded the real Putin hosted this year’s annual Red Square Victory Day parade on May 9 — but a different Putin may have inspected the Crimean Bridge 11 months ago.
AI technology found only a 53 per cent match of the pair.
TBS said: “Experts on face recognition would refer to this as ‘not matching’ in most cases, which leads us to the assumption this could be a double.”
Another Putin appearance — on the Ukraine War front line in Mariupol in March — produced only a 40 per cent match.
And the Crimea and Mariupol Putins produced an even lower likeness score of just 18 per cent.
The report concluded: “Expert analysis is clearly displaying the high probability of at least two body doubles.”
Dupes are even said to have appeared at top-level meetings — infuriating allies who know the Russian leader personally.
Kazakh president Kassym-Jomart Tokayev was said to be angry that one of the doubles mispronounced his name when sent to meet him in the capital Astana last week.
A clearly grumpy Tokayev went on to address the formal session in the Kazakh language rather than Russian, leaving his guests scrambling for translation earpieces.
Claims that Putin had collapsed and died last month first surfaced on messaging app Telegram’s General SVR channel.
It now has around 500,000 mainly Russian followers and claims inside knowledge from Putin’s circle.
The channel has been reporting his ill-health for months — and says security council chief Nikolai Patrushev, 72, is now in charge.
Russia’s secret elite is even said to be planning to keep its grip on power by making a doppelganger run in next year’s presidential election.
Doubles — with Putin features honed by plastic surgery — have been intensively coached on his views and how to respond at meetings and ceremonial occasions, it is claimed.
Former head of the FSB security service Patrushev is also said to be grooming his wealthy son, Dmitry, 46, to take over as president.
And last week he stunned an audience with what appeared to be a Putin eulogy — delivered in the past tense.
The spymaster, dressed in a sombre black suit, said: “Tired of the dashing 1990s, Russian society was waiting for the solution of economic problems and strengthening security.
“It required a leader who could put the welfare of the population at the top of the agenda, display the highest human and organisational qualities, will and dedication.
“Such a leader was Putin, who first served as Prime Minister, then was elected President and, in accordance with the constitution, became Chairman of the Russian Security Council.
“He knew in detail the state of affairs in the country, had a clear programme of action.”
General SVR claims Putin’s corpse has been stored in deep freeze at the Valdai palace residence he shared with long-time partner Alina Kabaeva, 40.
Sinister theories — echoing the plot of the movie The Death Of Stalin in which the Russian leader’s death was covered up in 1953 — have also been fuelled by Kabaeva’s disappearance.
The former Olympic gymnast has not been seen since the alleged date of her partner’s sudden death — and is claimed to be under house arrest.
Prominent Putin critic Professor Valery Solovey also believes Putin is dead.
Claiming inside knowledge, he alleged Putin had been given 18 months to live after being diagnosed with cancer and Parkinson Disease in February 2020.
The professor said: “He died in the evening around 8.40pm on Thursday, October 26.
“Now he is in the refrigerator compartment of his residence in Valdai. Humiliating, isn’t it? Well, probably deservedly so.
“There is no doubt about his physical death. Absolutely none — not the slightest.”
The shadowy climate of fear and secrecy created by Putin makes it impossible to pin down the truth behind the fantastical claims being whipped up by online conspiracists.
But Kremlin chiefs took the unusual step of denying their leader’s death the day after his alleged demise last month.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov branded the death and body double claims a social media hoax, adding: “Everything is fine with him.”
Two easy for Stalin
PARANOID despots have long used body doubles to deceive.
Actor and illusionist Felix Dadaev was Soviet dictator Josef Stalin’s political decoy.
Although there was a 40-year age gap, Dadaev adopted Stalin’s mannerisms and used make-up for the deception.
Iraqi tyrant Saddam Hussein had at least three body doubles, according to a German forensic pathologist.
And Cuba’s Fidel Castro employed doppelgangers when he was sick and as decoys to cheat the estimated 634 attempts on his life.
British leaders have also employed doubles for propaganda and espionage purposes.
Winston Churchill used a stand-in to deliver some of his most famous radio speeches during World War Two.
Well-known actor Norman Shelley even delivered the famous line: “We shall fight them on the beaches.”
According to Shelley, Churchill was too busy to attend studio recordings of speeches he had already delivered in the House of Commons.
Also during wartime, MI5 used a soldier with an uncanny resemblance to Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery to deceive the Germans over the Normandy invasion.
Lieutenant Clifton James was flown to Gibraltar – where German agents caught the Monty lookalike talking about a fictitious Plan 303.
Unbeknown to them, the real Montgomery was safely in the south of England planning the D-Day landings.