Putin’s appearance in New Year’s speech prompts frenzied speculation

In World

The medium rather than the message of Vladimir Putin‘s New Year’s speech sparked comments from social media users who wondered whether the Russian leader’s annual address might have had some digital assistance.

A staple of holiday celebrations in Russia, the speech is watched across the country. The televised New Year’s Eve speech by the president is a tradition started by former Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev and is broadcast before midnight in each of Russia’s 11 time zones.

Putin said in his address on Sunday that “we can solve the most difficult problems” and that there is “no force that can separate us.” Soon after the speech, there were suggestions online that there was something separated from reality about his appearance.

Russian President Vladimir Putin
Russian President Vladimir Putin delivers his traditional televised New Year’s address to the people of Russia in Moscow on December 31, 2023. His appearance sparked speculation among social media users about whether it was AI-generated.
Gavriil Grigorov

“Apparently, the New Year greeting of Putin was AI-generated,” posted Mykhaïlo Golub on X (formerly Twitter) to his 30,000 followers next to a video of Putin with his neck circled in blue, suggesting that there was something odd about his head and the rest of his body.

“Look at his neck) he’s not even in a suit, what’s this? Too lazy to wear a suit? Or a neural network?” wrote user RASSEL on a post shared by pro-Ukrainian Estonian user Regina Bauer. Bauer wrote that the speech “looks like…AI/greenscreen from bunker.”

The posts appear to be a light-hearted dig at Putin and there is no proof that Putin did not deliver the speech himself. Newsweek has reached out to the Kremlin for comment via email.

However, in one of the more surreal moments of his annual televised Q&A with the nation in December, the Russian leader addressed an AI version of himself created by a student in St Petersburg.

The generated image and voice of Putin asked the real Russian leader whether he had a lot of doubles, as reported in the Western media, and about his attitude to developments in artificial intelligence.

“You can talk me and use my voice, my pitch, but I figured that only one person could speak like myself,” the real Putin replied, “and this is going to be me.”

Putin did not directly mention the war in Ukraine although he did praise the Russian army and called for “unity” in his address which took place in the backdrop of the Kremlin, in contrast to last year when he was flanked by soldiers.

Putin said on Sunday that Russia was “firm in defending national interests, our freedom and security, our values” and that “working for the common good has united society.” Putin has announced he would run for another presidential term in March in an election he is widely expected to win and could see him stay in power until 2036.