Russian President Vladimir Putin has admitted he was offered the use of a body double for public appearances, but says he declined the offer.
Mr Putin – a 67-year-old former KGB agent who has dominated Russian politics for more than two decades – said the offer was made in the early 2000s, for security reasons when Russia was fighting a war against separatists in Chechnya.
It is not the first time Mr Putin has been asked about whether he uses a body double – or even a small army of them.
One of the more elaborate theories compares photographs of Mr Putin over the years, claiming to have identified several individuals posing as him.
The idea has also been fuelled by numerous “action man” photos of the Russian leader riding horses and going hunting – all the while looking remarkably trim for a man in his 60s.
This week, in an interview with TASS news agency, journalist Andrei Vandenko showed Mr Putin a list of popular Internet searches purportedly associated with his name, one entitled “Putin body double evidence”.
“Are you real?” Vandenko asked.
“Yes,” said Mr Putin, going on to denying using lookalikes for public appearances. He said he had turned down all such offers.
“I declined these body doubles. This [the offer] was during the most difficult periods of the fight against terrorism,” Mr Putin said, adding that he was referring to the beginning of the 2000s.
Mr Putin didn’t elaborate on his motives for rejecting the suggestion to use body doubles.
In the same interview, he also reaffirmed his opposition to mobile phones. Mr Putin said he does not have a personal mobile, and feels “more comfortable” relying on protected communications – although he sometimes used aides’ phones.