RUSSIA has been accused of faking Vladimir Putin's Easter church service appearance by using digitally altered pictures from last year's event.
Online sleuths claim the images from 2021 are virtually identical and were re-issued to hide the tyrant's failing health.
Pictures and video released by the Kremlin yesterday appeared to show the president, 69, holding a candle during midnight mass for Orthodox Easter.
He was seen fidgeting and biting his lips – sparking renewed speculation on his health – but significantly he appeared much less bloated than in another TV appearance days earlier.
Claims it was faked were seized on today by jubilant Ukrainians who say it could be a sign he was too ill to attend the mass or that his aides did not want people to see his decline.
As at last year's Easter mass, Putin was standing to the side of the main altar at Moscow's Christ the Saviour Cathedral alongside the city's mayor Sergei Sobyanin.
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Both men are wearing similar clothes to 2021's service, images show.
Putin's tie is a darker shade of red and there are subtle differences in lighting – which could have been manipulated with simple software, observers claim.
Sleuths also claim Putin vanished from the broadcast at one point – which they reckon is a giveaway that old video was edited together with new to make it appear he was present.
Opposition investigative media outlet Agentstvo claimed footage of Putin attending the ceremony – an appearance he makes annually – seemed to have been distorted.
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“In the broadcast of the Easter service from the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, Putin seemed to disappear for a moment,” it reported.
“This happened during the switching of shots, from a close-up with the president to a more general one.
“The place where Putin should be seems to be empty.”
Telegram channel Mozhem Obyasnit urged followers to “spot the difference” between Putin this year and last.
A post said: "Putin-2022 at the service in the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour is almost indistinguishable from Putin-2021.
“Social media users, having studied the photos, doubted that the President attended a public event.”
It added: “Putin has the same hairstyle, almost the same facial expression, the same candle.
“Both are on the same background in the same aisle of the cathedral.
“True, in 2021 Putin was sometimes shown against the backdrop of parishioners and priests, but this year, for some reason, they did not do this.”
Ukraine government spokesman Anton Gerashchenko said: "Putin's directors were again caught using video editing and [manipulation].
“This time – at the broadcast of the Easter service.”
It follows claims last month that Russia used a green screen to fake Putin's meeting with airline staff because he shuns contact with other people.
The theory erupted after footage appeared to show the president's hand passing through a microphone.
Last week bloated Putin was seen gripping a table and tapping his foot in video that Kremlin watchers claimed showed a drastic decline in his physical state.
He was shown on Russian TV giving orders to defence chief Sergei Shoigu on the siege of Mariupol.
Putin looked dishevelled, in pain and distracted as he told Shoigu to blockade the Azovstal steel plant, where more than 1,000 Ukrainian defenders and civilians are holed up, "so that a fly can't get in".
Observers said the isolated tyrant appeared "feeble and barely able to hold himself upright" in his chair.
It was one of his most shocking appearances so far, absent of his usual strongman bravado.
Experts told The Sun Online the footage is "not the portrait of a healthy Putin".
Professor Erik Bucy, a body language expert from Texas Tech University, told The Sun Online: " It’s an astonishingly weakened Putin compared to the man we observed even a few years ago.
"An able-bodied president would not need to keep himself propped up with a hand held out for leverage and would not be concerned about keeping both feet planted on the ground."
Professor Patrick Stewart, from the University of Arkansas, also noted that Putin appeared highly stressed and almost exhibiting a "flight" response.
He also zeroed in on his tapping feet, suggesting this was "leakage" as Putin attempted to keep himself under control – with his leg movements possibly appearing involuntary.
Putin has been dogged by rumours he is suffering from Parkinson's or another terminal illness.
Experts have pointed that Putin looks "bloated" and "weakened" in recent public appearances and has even been seen a doctor who specialises in thyroid cancer.
The report by investigative Proekt media – which is blocked in Russia – states that surgeon Yevgeny Selivanov, of Moscow's Central Clinical Hospital, had flown to the Russian leader no less than 35 times in the Black Sea resort of Sochi.
Kremlin officials have insisted there is nothing wrong with the leader, who turns 70 in October.
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