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Manipulated image of Trump, Russian foreign minister spreads online

An image spreading across X appears to show Donald Trump smiling for a photo alongside Sergei Lavrov as the top Russian diplomat sits at the former US president's desk in the White House's Oval Office. But the picture is altered; the original shows Trump at the Resolute Desk and Lavrov standing beside him.

"I remember feeling nauseous when tRump posted this photo because I knew he’d done it…he had betrayed America," says a March 24, 2024 post on X, where disinformation has accelerated since billionaire Elon Musk purchased the platform in 2022.

The image has spread across X amid Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Similar posts have circulated on other social media platforms for years.

<span>Screenshot from X taken March 25, 2024</span>
Screenshot from X taken March 25, 2024

The latest claims come as US military aid for Ukraine stalls in Congress -- thanks in part to Trump, who has pressured the Republican Party to deny further funding.

Trump, who is running against President Joe Biden to retake the White House, has previously expressed admiration for Russian President Vladimir Putin and boasted that he could immediately end the war in Ukraine. The Republican has also railed against NATO, saying in February that he would "encourage" Russia to "do whatever the hell they want" with alliance members who have not met their financial obligations.

But the image circulating online is doctored -- the heads and neckties of each man are swapped.

"The picture is clearly fake," the Trump campaign told AFP in a March 25 email.

The original photo, uncovered via reverse image searches and confirmed by the campaign, shows Trump seated behind the Resolute Desk with Lavrov standing to his right.

Alamy, a stock photo website, and US media such as CNN published the picture, captured during a December 10, 2019 meeting (archived here and here). Trump also posted it on social media (archived here).

"Just had a very good meeting with Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and representatives of Russia," he said in a post on X. "Discussed many items including Trade, Iran, North Korea, INF Treaty, Nuclear Arms Control, and Election Meddling. Look forward to continuing our dialogue in the near future!"

<span>Screenshot from X taken March 25, 2024</span>
Screenshot from X taken March 25, 2024

AFP has debunked other misinformation about US politics here.