UKRAINE has revived a conspiracy theory that Russia is using body doubles to stand in for Vladimir Putin, and points to his changing ears as proof.
Rumours have swirled for months about the 69-year-old Russian president's failing health, with close ally Nicolai Patrushev reportedly standing in for Vlad during his regular medical appointments.
This week, Ukraine's newly-appointed military intelligence chief, Major General Kyrylo Budanov, told Ukrainian TV that Putin's height and even ears appear to have changed in recent appearances.
"The picture, let's say, of the ears, is different," he said during an appearance on the channel 'Groshi', meaning money.
"And it's like a fingerprint, each person's ear picture is unique. It cannot be repeated."
Budanov was also cited by Ukrainian news outlet TSN as saying he believes the Russian president is seriously ill and using body doubles to avoid public appearances.
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He claimed that although very similar, the Putin body doubles "have different habits, different mannerisms, different gaits, sometimes even different heights if you looked closely".
Budanov earlier claimed that Putin was replaced by a body double during a recent trip to Iran.
He told Ukraine's 1+1 news channel that the president appeared more energetic than usual when he touched down for talks with his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
"Please look at the moment of Putin's exit from the plane," he said. "Is it Putin at all?"
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This is not the first time Putin's apparently changing ears have been pointed out as evidence that he is using body doubles.
As far back as 2018, IB Times reported on a conspiracy theory that Putin was in fact three different people.
A Twitter user known as English Russia shared three different pictures of the Russian president, each showing slightly different ears.
The pictures, taken years apart, do indeed appear to show a change in this feature of Putin's face.
In the earlier photos, his ears are smaller and pointer, with the two bits of cartilage above the earlobe – the tragus and antitragus – close together.
The later pictures show a wider gap between his tragus and antitragus, while his ear lobe is also far bigger.
[Putin's body doubles] have different habits, different mannerisms, different gaits, sometimes even different heights if you looked closely
Putin's ears nearly triggered a multimillion-pound legal dispute with Hollywood when, in 2003, a group of Russian lawyers tried to sue the Harry Potter franchise.
They claimed that the pointy-eared house elf Dobby was based on the Russian president.
Putin himself has previously admitted that he would consider using body doubles.
Of course, there is a potentially more likely explanation for Putin's apparent changing ears.
Our ears and noses continue lengthening as we get older, due to the cartilage breaking down and sagging, resulting in droopier features.
Alternatively, the Russian president has long been rumoured to have had plastic surgery or botox injections, which could explain a slightly different ear shape as well as his puffier appearance.
Putin's changing height could also be down to his alleged fondness for wearing heels.
At just five foot and seven inches officially, Vlad is a full three inches shorter than the average height for men in Russia.
He has been rumoured to be as short as five foot two to five foot five inches tall.
Last year, Czech media reported that the Russian strongman had managed to keep his wearing of platform shoes a secret throughout his presidency, thanks to flattering camera angles from sycophantic media.
For example, he is mostly pictured sitting down with world leaders, never standing, to diminish any noticeable height difference.
But even when pictured next to close ally Alexandr Lukashenko, President of Belarus, the six-foot-two statesman appears to stoop or bend over alongside him.
Putin's heels could also explain why he appears to be limping in many public appearances.
In 2015, Express Online quoted a Kremlin insider as saying strict rules dictate no one can be taller than the president in official photos.
But he came unstuck that year while posing with female guests for an event to mark International Women's Day.
The visitors to the Kremlin clearly hadn't received the memo about wearing high heels, and most of them towered over Putin.
Meanwhile, Putin's health remains shrouded in secrecy.
Speaking to The Telegraph on Monday, top Ukrainian intelligence official Major General Vady Skibitsky said that the Russian leader was "not in good health physically or mentally".
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He added that members of Putin's inner circle had begun "panicking about his health".
Skibitsky went on: "He uses a lot of doubles… and sometimes it is difficult to detect if it is the real Putin or someone replacing him."
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