The Life of a Putin Look-Alike

MTPutin look-alike Anatoly Gorbunov copying one of the president's typical gestures.
Wherever he goes, Anatoly Gorbunov is greeted by awed gazes, whispers and requests for his picture. Gorbunov is just a regular guy -- who happens to bear a striking resemblance to President Vladimir Putin.

Gorbunov, a businessman from the southern city of Volgodonsk, is not related to Putin and has never met the former KGB agent, who was catapulted to the presidency 2 1/2 years ago.

"I'm told I look like him,'' Gorbunov said in a recent interview in Moscow. "What can I do? ... It's nature's joke.''

Gorbunov and Putin share the same sharp cheekbones, slightly flared nose and thin brown hair, but the resemblance is far from total. Gorbunov's sparkling blue eyes and warm grin contrast with Putin's gray eyes and steely countenance. Putin is also a decade older than the 39-year-old Gorbunov.

Thanks to Putin's unflagging popularity, Gorbunov's resemblance to the president garners him requests for autographs. Putin, more than halfway through his term, enjoys high approval ratings.

Proof of public adoration is found in the number of Putin books, Putin portraits and Putin T-shirts. Even a new pop song, "I Want Someone Like Putin,'' has teenagers swooning over the president's strength and reliability.

In the summer of 1999, Gorbunov's appearance went suddenly from unremarkable to the talk of the town -- mirroring Putin's unexpected rise from the relatively obscure post of chief of the Federal Security Service to prime minister.

Soon after that appointment, Gorbunov and a friend took a vacation at a resort known to be frequented by government officials.

"We got there and everyone started dropping dishes when we went to the restaurant,'' Gorbunov recalled.

Since then, Gorbunov, who runs two television channels and several radio stations in Volgodonsk, has learned to enjoy his stardom.

He recalled strolling with a friend on Red Square when a group of tourists from Siberia began staring at him, trying to figure out if he really was the president. Pointing to St. Basil's Cathedral, at the time enveloped in scaffolding, he said in his best Putin voice, "First we'll finish with St. Basil's, and then we'll do more repairs on the Kremlin.'' That seemed to convince the tourists, he said.

Gorbunov has mastered Putin's facial expressions -- the creased forehead, the stern frown -- as well as his manner of speech.

Last New Year's Eve he appeared on his television channel with the president's traditional holiday address -- making sure first to put his watch on his right hand as Putin wears it.

But although he has fun with the attention, Gorbunov concedes it can sometimes be a burden -- especially when he leaves Volgodonsk, where he is well-known. Since the incident on Red Square, Gorbunov says he avoids the center of Moscow, especially if he is dressed in a suit.

"Some people smile, some point,'' he said. "Some say, 'Yo, man! It's Putin!' That kind of thing is annoying and tiresome.''

As for Putin himself, Gorbunov said he supports what he sees as the president's efforts to "return Russia to its past greatness.''