Debunk: Did Putin kiss Xi JinPing’s hand and did he send a body double to Mariupol?

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Russian President Vladimir Putin has been at the centre of fake news and bizarre conspiracy theories circulating on social media this week. 

The Russian leader received his Chinese counterpart Xi JinPing in Moscow on Monday. But one particular photo of the two men gave rise to various reactions and interpretations on social media.

Viewed by millions of people on Twitter, it was also shared by journalists, including a correspondent for the Kyiv Post.

It claims to show Vladimir Putin kneeling on one knee and kissing the Chinese leader’s hand. The caption says this is “Putin attempting to persuade Xi.”

But this image is fake – it was actually generated by artificial intelligence or AI. How do we know this? Here are a few clues to finding out whether an image is real or not. 

First, The Cube did a reverse image search and couldn’t find this photo anywhere except on social media. No other mainstream news outlet published it. 

Multiple social media users noticed the decor of the room where both leaders met is different from the social media post. 

We know they met in a room that looked like in the Twitter thread above while the image widely shared on Twitter shows a completely different carpet and furniture.

But that’s not enough to prove an image is fake so let’s dig deeper. There are other details which give us some clues it’s not real. 

For example, Putin’s hand is blurry and doesn’t look very realistic, which is usually a good indication that an image has been generated by AI.

That’s because even though artificial intelligence is very developed, it still has trouble recreating details such as human hands.

Finally, Vladimir Putin’s head is abnormally large compared to his body, another good clue this photo was never taken.

A reporter even “ran the image through an AI image detector created by Hugging Face.” According to their image detector, the photo is indeed artificial.

Did Putin even go to Mariupol or was it his body double?

Earlier this week, another strange rumor spread by Ukrainian officials claimed Vladimir Putin did not visit the occupied city of Mariupol and had sent a body double due to the different chin sizes in these photos.

But the Italian fact-checking site, OpenFactChecking, debunked this theory. They proved the first image on the left dates from 2020 and not 2023.

The middle and last photo were filmed on the same day recently in Mariupol by a pro-Kremlin media – not in Sevastopol as the second picture claims. 

The difference of chin size is because in the second shot, Putin is grimacing which explains the double chin. 

But could Vladimir Putin have a body double? Conspiracy theories have floated around since the start of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, but have never been proven.