Iconic Photo of President Reagan Greeting a Young Boy While KGBer Vladimir Putin Dressed as a Tourist in Red Square, 1988

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According to Obama’s photographer, this is Putin. According to Putin, this is not Putin!

President Reagan in Red Square in 1988 with, at far left,… KGBer Vladimir Putin? (White House Photo/ Pete Souza)

The historic photograph was taken during the US president’s 1988 visit to Moscow. Is the camera-wearing blond youth insouciantly dressed as a tourist actually a tourist? Or is he in fact an undercover KGB spy, now better known as Vladimir Putin?

Reagan (and later Obama) White House photographer Pete Souza, who took the photo, recalled in a 2012 interview on NPR that the tourists Reagan met were asking some oddly pointed questions about his human rights record, until a Secret Service agent told him, “Oh, these are all KGB families.”

Souza said he was told the ‘tourist’ with the camera was a young Putin, who in 1988 was just a midlevel KGB agent, “and it certainly does look like him.”

“Putin wasn’t really on the scene [at the time], right? But this guy made a good case for why this was him: The so-called tourists that were in Red Square were really—we knew they were KGB families” Pete Souza told Esquire. “I wondered about it, so I contacted the Reagan library and the National Security Council at the Bush White House… The Reagan library wasn’t sure, they didn’t know any way to check. Someone at the National Security Council at the Bush White House emailed me back and said, ‘It could be him, but we can’t say for sure.’”

The identity of the young man with the camera has been up for debate since the photo surfaced in 2009. Putin’s press spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, flat-out denied that the man in the photo was Russia’s future head of state. “It’s not him,” Peskov said. To further complicate matters, Putin wasn’t even stationed in Russia in 1988 — he was based in East Germany. And skeptics point out that it would be highly unlikely that he was flown back just to pose as a tourist and pester Reagan with questions during a “casual” encounter. Souza has insisted that the man is definitely Putin.

“So jump ahead to 2009, when I was first hired to do the Obama job. I did an interview with Steve Inskeep of NPR, and this came up in discussion. And I made it sound, wrongly, like I was convinced that it was Vladimir Putin, when in fact there was no concrete proof. So I don’t know. It’s still a mystery to me. But the Russians have denied that it’s him.” – said Souza.

(via Timeline)

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