When Vlady Met Ronnie

posted at 1:36 pm on March 16, 2009 by Ed Morrissey

Maybe Vladimir Putin is Russia’s Forrest Gump.  Matthew Continetti at The Weekly Standard discovers this photographic gem at Foreign Policy, from Ronald Reagan’s visit to Moscow in 1988.  Standing on the left, with cameras around his neck looking very much like a tourist, is a man who appears to be Vladimir Putin, the current Prime Minister of Russia and the power behind the presidency of Dmitry Medvedev.  But was he really?

Compare this to a photo of Putin now:

Gray hair now, and less of it — but it appears to be the same man, nevertheless.  Matthew says the photographer has since confirmed it.  In an NPR interview, Pete Souza recounts the knowledge imparted by Secret Service agents on that trip:

Souza recounts a story from a trip to Russia with Reagan. He shot photos of Reagan as the president toured Moscow’s Red Square with then-Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. Gorbachev introduced Reagan to various tourists, who asked the American president pointed questions about subjects such as human rights in the United States. Souza says he remembers turning to one of the Secret Service agents standing nearby. “I can’t believe these tourists in the Soviet Union are asking these pointed questions.” The agent replied, “Oh, these are all KGB families.”

Putin was actually a fairly high-ranking officer in the KGB, though.  Would they have used such an agent for this kind of detail and risk his exposure?  It seems like a strange decision, unless Putin was already so exposed as to make him a better choice than exposing other, more covert agents.  Also, the publicly-acknowledged timeline for Putin’s KGB work puts him in East Germany from 1985-1990.  A Reagan visit might have been an opportunity to bring Putin to Moscow, but again, why bother?

It’s intriguing, to say the least.

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If it is him, it’s the closest he ever got to integrity.

AubieJon on March 16, 2009 at 1:39 PM

Too bad he’s wearing his shirt — then we could conclusively confirm with
http://www.siberianlight.net/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2007/08/putin-man-boobs-fishing.jpg

D2Boston on March 16, 2009 at 1:39 PM

The second picture of putin is awful for comparison purposes. can’t see his jawline or ear. And I’m too lazy to find a different one.

lorien1973 on March 16, 2009 at 1:40 PM

Holy crap,Putin met the Gipper!

canopfor on March 16, 2009 at 1:40 PM

Man do I miss President Reagan.

rbj on March 16, 2009 at 1:41 PM

i can see the NY Slimes headline now….

“Reagan Palled around with KGB members”….. BLASPHEMY!!!!

alexraye on March 16, 2009 at 1:43 PM

If Bush saw this photo and looked into that man’s eyes he could confirm if that is Putin.

Mark1971 on March 16, 2009 at 1:43 PM

Could be photoshop – I don’t see the map of Albania on Gorby’s forehead….

Vashta.Nerada on March 16, 2009 at 1:44 PM

Interesting…they do look alike.

becki51758 on March 16, 2009 at 1:46 PM

This is old… I saw it at least 2 months ago…

ninjapirate on March 16, 2009 at 1:47 PM

Can’t really tell. Maybe if we compared it to the shirtless picture of Putin we can make a more definitive guess.

danking70 on March 16, 2009 at 1:47 PM

Even if it is not Putin the man is definitely not a tourist. His bearing and fit of his clothes suggest he is not an ordinary josef.

arnold ziffel on March 16, 2009 at 1:49 PM

Putin was actually a fairly high-ranking officer in the KGB, though. Would they have used such an agent for this kind of detail and risk his exposure?

Oh come on. They wouldn’t have risked using a low-ranking officer … he wouldn’t be trusted.

gh on March 16, 2009 at 1:49 PM

I don’t know about the first picture, but the second picture makes Putin and Medvedev (sp?) look like The Petshop Boys.

myrenovations on March 16, 2009 at 1:49 PM

I don’t know about the first picture, but the second picture makes Putin and Medvedev (sp?) look like The Petshop Boys.

myrenovations on March 16, 2009 at 1:49 PM

lol

carbon_footprint on March 16, 2009 at 1:50 PM

Whether or not it’s Putin in the first pic, the guy is wearing an awesome shirt. The Soviets couldn’t build a decent car but their shirt designs were top-notch.

Bishop on March 16, 2009 at 1:53 PM

I don’t think it’s Putin. I think the nose in the old picture is different than the photo of Putin. The nose in the old photo appears to angle down more.

If it is Putin, it’s scary to think Reagan was so close to a KGB person.

Oink on March 16, 2009 at 1:55 PM

Q: How do you pronounce the new Russian president’s name?

A: POO-tin.

Leopold Stotch on March 16, 2009 at 1:57 PM

I am as sure that is Putin…….

as Shrimpy McHilter was involved in the 1979 Iranian hostage incident.

Dr.Cwac.Cwac on March 16, 2009 at 1:59 PM

Zombie Reagan 2012. This time it’s payback.

Dr.Cwac.Cwac on March 16, 2009 at 2:00 PM

I don’t know…all those commies look alike to me.

flipflop on March 16, 2009 at 2:04 PM

Have any professional facial image analysts weighed in on this?

toliver on March 16, 2009 at 2:06 PM

Are you insane?

radiofreevillage on March 16, 2009 at 2:08 PM

If it is him, it’s the closest he ever got to integrity.

AubieJon on March 16, 2009 at 1:39 PM

+1000

thomasaur on March 16, 2009 at 2:09 PM

Is it just me, or does everyone else in that picture look small compared to Reagan?

InterestedObserver on March 16, 2009 at 2:09 PM

He was there to keep an eye on Gorbachev.

Ted Torgerson on March 16, 2009 at 2:13 PM

Are you insane?

radiofreevillage on March 16, 2009 at 2:08 PM

Are you talk’n to me?

If so, I’ll fix it:

Have any professional facial image analysts publicly weighed in on this?

toliver on March 16, 2009 at 2:18 PM

Are you insane?

radiofreevillage on March 16, 2009 at 2:08 PM

Am I the only one that finds it funny when radiofreevillageidiot asks a question like this?

fumpbump on March 16, 2009 at 2:21 PM

Great post Ed.

Mark30339 on March 16, 2009 at 2:23 PM

Are you insane?

radiofreevillage on March 16, 2009 at 2:08 PM

I’ll try to be less juvenile than free, but it is sort of a strange post, Ed.

We know Putin was KGB, so I’m not sure how this adds to our understanding of the man. The fellow in the tourist garb is pretty nondescript, and the reference photo of Putin is indeed awful. What are we supposed to do with all this?

DrSteve on March 16, 2009 at 2:27 PM

Not the same, unless Putin got a nose job. The bridge of the nose is different.

cap_losaltos on March 16, 2009 at 2:28 PM

Not the same, unless Putin got a nose job. The bridge of the nose is different.

cap_losaltos on March 16, 2009 at 2:28 PM

That’s the kind of thing I’m looking for. I’m not good w/this stuff. It kinda looks like “Pooty Poot”, but it could just as easily be some other dude.

toliver on March 16, 2009 at 2:39 PM

Putin’s doppelganger was an armlength away from the embodiment of pure freedom.

whitetop on March 16, 2009 at 2:45 PM

The guy next to Putin ’88 looks an awful lot like Radovan Kradzjic (or however the hell you spell it).

How do you say “I gotta go pee” in Russian?

J.J. Sefton on March 16, 2009 at 2:45 PM

“Putin was actually a fairly high-ranking officer in the KGB”

Probably on the security detail. Just trying to look ‘touristy’.

GarandFan on March 16, 2009 at 2:47 PM

if 24 was realistic, Putin would’ve shook his hand and later Reagan would’ve collapsed from acid poisoning.

jp on March 16, 2009 at 2:48 PM

The blond guy on the left in the first photo looks fairly muscular, with a much fuller face than Putin in the recent photo, whose cheeks are thin and concave. Also, the blond guy in the first photo seems to have a fairly straight nose in profile, whereas Putin’s nose is concave. It doesn’t really look like the blond guy in the first photo is Putin.

Ed’s point is also well taken:

Would they have used such an agent for this kind of detail and risk his exposure?

The Soviet Union was in turmoil in 1988, and the visit of an American President would attract lots of cameras–one would think that KGB agent Putin would go out of his way to avoid them.

Steve Z on March 16, 2009 at 2:49 PM

Am I the only one that finds it funny when radiofreevillageidiot asks a question like this?

No, I’m sure there’s more people like you particularly on this blog. That is a big problem in our movement. But anyway…

toliver on March 16, 2009 at 2:18 PM

No. That was to the resident cellular biologist.

Putin has never been a high-ranking KGB official. While at Germany he wasn’t a resident or even close. He was running a fairly obscure “German-Soviet Frienship Center”. He wasn’t even undercover. Oh wait. Maybe he was.

- Say, who’s that guy who came to Berlin from Moscow to run the “Friendship Center”? Yes, the one that you cannot enter without being approved first. That friendship. Could he… you know… be with… uhm, them?
- Nah! A Russian in Germany openly directing some propaganda center? He was probably hired randomly… because he types fast. Or something.

But then… all of a sudden…

Universal Pictures presents.
- What? What’s that?! *Man running on the screen from left to right*
- OMFG, Reagan in Moscow! *woman sobbing*
- Collect yourself. We beat Hitler. We can deal with THIS. I know who will save us. *dials on the phone*
- .. Yeah… yeah… no…. Only him. No, only him… I said, ONLY HIM… I can’t go into that. Contact Ed Morrissey. He’ll explain. Do you have children?…. No, stop writing the will. This is now what I meant. But if they have a homework on the motion of atmospheric fronts, let them talk to Ed, too. He’s good at everything… Except facts…. I said, except… nevermind.

In a city where children’s hands are about to be shaken by an American, only one guy stationed in Germany can supervise that.

Putin.

Because Russian children need both hands.

radiofreevillage on March 16, 2009 at 2:49 PM

If you look at the pic posted by D2Boston at 1:39 p.m., you can see that the shape of the ear, the nose, and the jaw line are all quite different. Not the same guy.

SWLiP on March 16, 2009 at 3:04 PM

He couldn’t get close enough for a Ricin-tipped dart shot.

pseudonominus on March 16, 2009 at 3:10 PM

Could be photoshop – I don’t see the map of Albania on Gorby’s forehead….

Vashta.Nerada on March 16, 2009 at 1:44 PM

It was actually a map of Nicaragua mirrored, that way he could ponder his Central-American take-over plan every time he went to the bathroom.

Glenn Jericho on March 16, 2009 at 3:18 PM

Yes, it could very well be Putin in the Reagan photo. Nose, eyes, ears, chin…all seem to be similar in many points.

Expose Putin? To the West? In 1988, exposure was never an issue.

The West was never a Putin assigned target.

He was primarily internal Party security, in the DDR and back home in Mother Russia. He looked over the shoulders of Party elites to make sure they did not get out of line, and when they did, the Putin hammer came down. This is how he built his power base in Russia…fear and intimidation, and rewards for loyalty, to him, not necessarily Russia. Being in his position he could exercise personal power, look the other way to grab a higher-up’s loyalty, or work a lower rank subject upwards.

NATO and the US was never on his tasking list…so he would have been a “safe” and “reliable” candidate to be among the “typical Russian families” who just happened to be in Red Square when Reagan did his walkabout with Gorbachev.

Remarkable piece of history, nonetheless.

I miss Reagan.

coldwarrior on March 16, 2009 at 3:20 PM

Vashta.Nerada on March 16, 2009 at 1:44 PM

We did a series of posters of Gobachev, with the birthmark adjusted to resemble Afghanistan.

coldwarrior on March 16, 2009 at 3:21 PM

I don’t think it’s Putin. The guy’s got too much hair. Vlad’s been mostly bald for a long time:

See this photo

notropis on March 16, 2009 at 3:31 PM

Or see this one, if you can stomach it:

Thong-wearing KGB agent plays ping-pong

notropis on March 16, 2009 at 3:33 PM

The KGB were fairly out in the open when I was there in 1989. It was to constantly remind us that we were being watched. They even bugged my dorm room, than subtley let me know it was bugged (asked me about something in class that I had ONLY discussed with my roommate the night before). At least a third of our student “guides” were junior KGB and the “President” of the University had remarkable power to get us through customs without any bags checked. Gee, what power for a university president . . .

PastorJon on March 16, 2009 at 3:46 PM

A couple more, for comparison:

Here

Here

Here

notropis on March 16, 2009 at 3:51 PM

Putin was actually a fairly high-ranking officer in the KGB, though. Would they have used such an agent for this kind of detail and risk his exposure?

Daring, its not unusual for Soviet spies.

July 23, 2000

Ruth Werner, 93, Colorful and Daring Soviet Spy
By DAVID BINDER

Ruth Werner, a colorful and successful Soviet spy whose exploits included radioing invaluable atomic bomb data to Moscow in the middle of World War II, died on July 7 in Berlin. She was 93.

In her 20 years as an intelligence operative in China, Poland, Switzerland and England, she had a number of close calls. But she always managed to extricate herself from the predicament — unlike Klaus Fuchs, the agent who fed her the British atomic bomb secrets, who was imprisoned in Britain for nine and a half years, or Richard Sorge, the master spy who recruited her, who was executed in Japan in 1941.

Her espionage work was entwined with her romantic life, which included an affair with one of her spy chiefs; later she married a British Communist to become a British citizen and only later came to love him. She told some but not all of her story in a 1974 autobiography, still observing the iron rules of conspiracy by never mentioning Fuchs, who was still alive.

Speakup on March 16, 2009 at 3:59 PM

notropis on March 16, 2009 at 3:51 PM

Good catches…the Navy photo was in the early 90′s to mid-90′s, if memory serves.

BTW…hair is rarely used as a hard identifier. For a quick scan, it works, often, but hair can be colored, enhanced, cut, and so forth. Eyes, nose, mouth and chin and the distance between a set number of points of each is a more reliable indicator. The relative distances rarely change at all from age 20 to 70′s.

coldwarrior on March 16, 2009 at 4:03 PM

FWIW I think it’s him.

Despite the turmoil at the time, the KGB was still very much in control of security in the USSR back during this time. Flooding the square with KGB and their families would have been the logical thing for them to do rather then risk some dissident or total unknown asking Reagan a question or making a statement. The Soviets would have wanted to control the entire thing. If Putin was supposed to be in East Germany, it would only take a day or two on a train to get him back for this event, along with his family. Pulling in agents from outside Moskow would have been a tactic to throw off CIA attempts to ID regular agents used in Moscow. The Soviets probably also bought into the liberal train of thought that Reagan was a dunce and they could stage-manage the entire affair and convince Reagan that all Soviet children were this smart and knowlegeable. All they would have done is convince Reagan it was a put on.

Reagan was a good enough actor to recognize bad acting but not react to it.

EonTopaz10 on March 16, 2009 at 4:05 PM

I don’t think it is Putin.

Interesting post though, Ed.

Norwegian on March 16, 2009 at 4:18 PM

It could be Putty Poot, the only thing that doesn’t match are the parenthesis around the mouth. The older photo, the alleged Putin has them, in the actual Putin photo he seems to have lost them – which is usually not how these things work with age. The nose also seems straight in the actual photo of Putin, as opposed to upturned or down pointing, the older photo seems to indicate a down pointing nose – though it could be because of light.

Another interesting tidbit, everybody in front of Reagen (including the kid) is looking at Reagen’s hand. A sign that everyone is watching for the kid to get the handshake right. People behind Reagen are looking at the alleged Putin to see signs of approval b/c they can’t see the handshake directly – a sign of respect for the alleged Putin, or whoever he may be.

PresidenToor on March 16, 2009 at 5:39 PM

Not Putin.

Not 100% walk in to Court sure, but enough to dispute the photo of the guy and the kid with Reagan is not Putin. Printed out several Putin right-side photos and did some measurements. Ratios and other features do not appear to match. If anyone has facial recognition software, what’d you come up with?

coldwarrior on March 16, 2009 at 5:49 PM

ahh like McCain said.
I look into those eyes and all I see are three letters.
S.O.B. or something like that.

johnnyU on March 16, 2009 at 6:55 PM

The Soviets probably also bought into the liberal train of thought that Reagan was a dunce and they could stage-manage the entire affair and convince Reagan that all Soviet children were this smart and knowlegeable.

The Soviets were not born yesterday. The idea that they would evaluate Reagan by American liberal standards (in 1988 no less) is not realisitic. They would have had a file on him going back to the 1950′s or maybe longer.

aengus on March 16, 2009 at 11:11 PM