When Putin met Reagan

In May 1988, President Ronald Reagan travelled to Moscow for his 4th summit with Mikhail Gorbachev. The Soviets prepared a grand welcome; buildings across from the Kremlin were repainted, streets repaved and trees and flowers planted along the boulevards. The president’s schedule included attending the Bolshoi Ballet, speaking to students at Moscow’s State University and visiting Danilov Monastery, while First Lady would tour Leningrad.

The visit was not without its own share of diplomatic incidents. The First Couple took an unscheduled walk through the Arbat, a Moscow shopping pedestrian street, when security police rushed in and roughed up a throng of onlookers, including children. “It’s still a police state,” Reagan was heard to say. When the president’s advance team asked the Russian Orthodox Church to pave the way to the Danilov Monastery so that the president could arrive in the limousine, a clergyman retorted that “One does not ride to see God. One walks either upon his feet or upon his knees.” Because he wore no ID badge, White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater was pursued by security personnel on his way to a Kremlin dinner. The president dozed off during the performance at the Bolshoi and Secretary Gorbachev had to wake him with a tap on the shoulder as the curtains were coming down.

The most telling incident was only revealed 20 years later. In the above photo, the man with the camera around his neck standing behind the boy was the current Russian Prime Minister (and former president) Vladimir Putin. He was pretending to be a tourist on his capacity as a KGB agent. On that day, on the Red Square, Gorbachev introduced Reagan to various tourists, who asked the American president pointed questions about subjects such as human rights in the United States. The photographer of this picture, Pete Souza, turned to the Secret Service and commented, “I can’t believe these tourists in the Soviet Union are asking these pointed questions.” The agent replied, “Oh, these are all KGB families.”

Pete Souza is the official chief White House photographer for Ronald Reagan and Barack Obama administrations. The Kremlin, however, had denied that it was Putin.

81 thoughts on “When Putin met Reagan

  1. hmm… yea, looking at a picture of Putin’s profile in Google images, the nose in this picture does look a bit too long and pointy and the earlobe looks a bit longer too…. who knows! interesting story nonetheless!

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  3. Only Reagan’s tie isn’t from KGB on this image although it looks like made 60% from microfiber and 40% from microfilm

  4. I don’t think that’s Putin. I’ve seen a lot of photos and video of Putin, and this man looks quite different. There’s a photo here of what Putin looked like in the ’80s: http://bit.ly/8tcQAf. Also, I believe Putin is shorter than the man pictured here.

    • Thanks for those photos, though they are a bit scary. Somehow his expression kinda reminds me of Tom Riddle!

  5. Please, correct or remove this article, as this is definitely not V. Putin, who as it had already been said, had been stationed in Germany up until the fall of the Soviet Union, and doesn’t even remotely resemble current Russian PM.

    Though even if true, this wouldn’t be much of a sensation, still, story title looks like it would suit a supermarket tabloid, not a website dedicated to iconic photos.

    I originally loved your blog, but once I found this controversial entry, I started questioning your commentaries to all the other images. Perhaps they’re as wrong as this one.

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  7. The corner distortion of the lens makes the head of the man in question stretch out thus causing his nose to appear to be longer than it really is.

  8. In this picture Putin is supposed to be taller than Gorbachev and almost as tall as Reagan. Oh really, try and pull the other one!

  9. Judging by the photo in the link below of Putin circa 1980, the guy pictured with Reagan is not him. Putin had a severely receding hairline in the 1980 photo — eight years before the Regan picture, which captured a guy with a full head of hair.

    • I’m pretty sure the Soviets had toupee technology by 1988. Wearing a hairpiece is a common basic disguise.

  10. Reblogged this on GooseRadio and commented:
    History really does have a sense of humor. Of course Vlad the Impaler met the Gipper in Red Square. Why wouldn’t he have?

  11. The facial structure is wrong. The person in the photo has a placement that is back on his heels like most people, Putin has a placement that is forward of center as is common among martial artists and dancers. The person in the photo is 178 to 182 centimeters tall, Putin is 170 centimeters, Reagan was 185 centimeters. Clearly, its not Putin!

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