The troops who became the backdrop of Russian President Vladimir Putin‘s Near Year’s Eve address may not be who they appeared to be.
Allegations of the 70-year-old head of state using actors for the event that the Russian government claimed was shot from Russia’s Southern Military District surfaced after one of the soldiers was reportedly spotted in past photos doing a wide range of activities with Putin.
The soldier, a blonde woman referred only to as Natasha in Ukrainian Telegram channels, camped, went fishing and even attended church with Putin, among other things, over the past few years, images that circulated on social media showed, according to Ukrainian newspaper the Kyiv Post.
“A soldier, a sailor, a devout Christian. God moves in a mysterious way,” Belarusian journalist Tadeusz Giczan remarked over Natasha’s appearances in events Putin attended in the past.
Former Ukrainian Defense Minister Andriy Zagorodnyuk, for his part, said, “Anyone surprised?” in response to a post that pointed out one of Natasha’s sightings.
The photo scandal suggested Putin would prefer to avoid direct interaction with his people and supported old rumors that the members of Russia’s Federal Protective Service, the agency tasked with protecting the Russian president and other high-ranking officials, were paid actors for Putin’s events, per the Kyiv Post.
These events are supposedly public, but they are held at enclosed or secure facilities, the outlet claimed.
Putin’s public outings are reportedly known to be highly stage-managed to make him look invincible.
Russia has reportedly been left beleaguered by its ongoing invasion of Ukraine, which is the main reason why Putin’s most recent New Year’s address used soldiers as a backdrop.
Putin’s love for theatrics is well known, and observers have been able to pick out the repeated use of actors at his events over the years.
In a similar story, Russian oligarch Yevgeny Prigozhin, the founder of the Wagner Group paramilitary organization and a known ally of Putin, has been accused of paying dozens of people between $21 and $35 to attend the funeral of one of his mercenary company’s soldiers more than a week ago.