Vladimir Putin has been pictured mixing with the public a week after a mutiny by the Wagner mercenary group shook the country, fuelling rumours the Russian president uses a body double.
Putin was pictured meeting people who had turned up for a presidential speech in the southern Dagestan region on Wednesday.
He was seen diving directly into crowds and talking with Russians, something he has rarely done since the invasion of Ukraine and the COVID-19 pandemic.
Since the outbreak of the coronavirus in 2020, the president has been known to only meet with his closest advisors with access to him strictly controlled.
Putin's foray into the public is being viewed as an attempt to show the president's authority has not been undermined by the recent mutiny.
Over the weekend Wagner forces, who have been fighting in Ukraine led by their leader Yevgeny Prigozhin, left their posts in Ukraine and began marching on Moscow.
The unprecedented mutiny was diffused before it became a full-scale civil war but has embarrassed the Russian government.
However, Putin's dramatic change in character at the gathering has fuelled rumours it was actually a body double.
Several pointed out Putin requires anyone wishing to see him go through a two-week quarantine before meeting him.
Kirill Martynov, editor of the independent Novaya Gazeta Europe, said: "This is all very strange.
"The place of meeting is strange, as is Putin hugging people all of a sudden. He normally doesn't do that. Where is the table? It's a riddle.
"I really don't like stupid conspiracy theories but the feeling that there are two Putins is growing."
There have been rumours for years that Putin uses a body double and these have only intensified since the start of the war in Ukraine.
Russia has officially denied such rumours several times.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said in April: "You have probably heard that he has very many doubles who work instead of him while he sits in a bunker… [This is] yet another lie."
Peskov added: "You see yourselves what our president is like: He always was, and is now, mega-active — those who work next to him can hardly keep up with him. His energy can only be envied."
Rumours about his health, height and every aspect of his life have been focused on since the invasion began.
In January, Putin was pictured with students at Moscow State University and appeared to be wearing chunky heels in an apparent attempt to boost his height. Putin is estimated to be 5 ft 7 in.
He was widely mocked for the picture on social media and was previously accused of having "small man syndrome" by UK defence secretary Ben Wallace.
In October, Major General Kyrylo Budanov, Ukraine’s head of military intelligence, claimed Putin uses three body doubles who have had plastic surgery to resemble him.
Budanov claimed in an interview with the Mail on Sunday that doubles are used to cover up Putin’s loss of control in the Russian government.
He said, without presenting evidence: “We know specifically about three people that keep appearing, but how many there are, we don't know. They all had plastic surgery to look alike.
“The one thing that gives them away is their height. It's visible in videos and pictures. Also gesturing, body language and earlobes, since they are unique for every person.”