By Chris Jewers and Will Stewart for MailOnline
Vladimir Putin has been exposed using actors to pose as soldiers and wearing body armour underneath his suit for his annual televised New Year address.
The Russian president, 70, delivered the address flanked by dozens of servicemen who were presented as having fought in Ukraine.
However, eagle-eyed viewers have pointed out that several of the supposed soldiers have appeared in previous Russian propaganda videos with Putin.
The deceit suggests Putin is so paranoid about his position being under threat amid failings in Ukraine that he is doing all he can to avoid meeting the general public.
Vladimir Putin has been accused of hiring actors to pose as soldiers and wearing body armour underneath his suit for his annual televised New Year address. Pictured left: A blonde woman, said to be a ‘medic’, has been spotted at other public appearances by Putin
Social media users compared photos of past appearances to match several people seen around Putin on more than one occasion, suggesting they are actors or even members of his security detail
One of the actors is a blonde woman seen standing over Putin’s right shoulder. Like the others, she is seen in military clothing having been given a medal earlier by the Russian despot, and glances between him and the camera.
In the broadcast she was decorated with a medal by the Russian president as a senior captain in the army medical service called Anna Sidorenko.
But this is not the first time she has been seen with Putin – the mysterious woman was once nicknamed Agent Cornetto, after she was spotted selling ice cream to Putin when he visited an air show.
Nor was this her first appearance at his events, media outlet Sibir.Realii – linked to Radio Liberty – pointed out in the wake of Putin’s address.
The suspicion is that – if this is indeed the same woman – she is a trusted member of his security detail rather than a military medic. At the very least, she has been seen standing in as an actor before, posing as various members of the public.
‘Realii has noted that one of the military standing behind Putin during his televised address was a woman who has appeared several times in shots with the president, in various roles,’ said the outlet.
Putin is seen awarding the mystery blonde woman with a medal prior to his New Year TV address
A woman, who social media users have said is the same as the one standing behind Putin during his New Year address, is seen dressed as a sailor at a previous appearance made by the Russian president
A woman, thought to be the same person seen during Putin’s New Year address, stands near the Russian president during an appearance at a church
‘In September 2016, the president was photographed on a lake in the Novgorod region along with fishermen – she was among them,’ the outlet said.
The woman was photographed along-side the Russian president wearing orange high-visibility clothing,
‘And in January 2017, these same people were noticed at an [Orthodox] Christmas service in a Novgorod monastery.’
Most were seen as his security operatives rather than real fishermen.
Two others have been photographed with the mysterious women on numerous occasions, also posing as fishermen and church worshippers.
In 2017 and 2019, Putin ‘bought ice cream from the same saleswoman at the International Aviation and Space Show.’
At the Moscow aviation show the blonde vendor was identified as Ekaterina Safonova yet is believed to be the same woman as in the other outings.
In 2019 she served Putin ice cream when he treated visiting Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to a vanilla cone. She had given the Kremlin leader a snack at the same spot two years earlier.
Sources at the air show said her only role was to serve Putin and after doing so she vanished.
The outline of what some commentators have said appears to be body armour can be seen under Putin’s suit, suggesting the Russian president was taking further precautions
Newspaper Moskovsky Komsomolets speculated that she is a colonel in the FSO – the Federal Protection Service – which is responsible for guarding the president.
The earlier claims about ‘Agent Cornetto’ led to accusations that Putin uses his own security operatives to pose as ordinary people – so he does not have to meet members of the public.
Health or security concerns might be a reason behind such action.
Sibir.Realii’s claim led to a lively social media debate in Russia as to whether the people in the New Year broadcast was the same as in earlier appearances.
Several images were shared of Putin’s previous public events, with Twitter users creating composite images and circling the people who have appeared on more than one occasion as ‘members of the public’ meeting the president.
The fatigued dictator made his address from the headquarters of the Southern Military District, close to Ukraine, said his officials.
Amid rumours of his failing health and fight against cancer, he claimed to be guiding Russians to ‘our common future, our true independence’. He coughed and spluttered on several occasions during his nine-minute speech.
Commentators online suggested Putin’s address was a poor imitation of Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky’s risky visit to the war’s front lines, in which he was seen shaking hands with soldiers and handing out awards.
Nobel peace prize 2022 co-winner Oleksandra Matviichuk wrote: ‘Putin wanted to copy Zelensky, who came to the Ukrainian defenders in Bakhmut. But after ten months of full-scale war, even actors are in short supply in Russia.’
Published by Associated Newspapers Ltd
Part of the Daily Mail, The Mail on Sunday & Metro Media Group