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.