PUPPET master Vladimir Putin has been accused of using “paid actors” to pose as soldiers in his New Year speech.
The tyrant’s annual address saw him flanked by troops who had supposedly fought in Ukraine during his bloody invasion.
Donning war medals and sporting poker faces, the 20 squaddies stood behind Putin as he coughed and spluttered through his nine-minute message.
He raised a glass of champagne to praise their war efforts – while a fresh barrage of missiles rained down on civilians in Kyiv.
The Russian President told them their nation “was driven to the point of either surrendering everything or fighting.”
“As long as we have people like you… of course nothing can be given up,” he swooned.
But eagle-eyed social media users spotted a familiar face lurking behind the bloodthirsty despot.
A blonde woman with a sweeping fringe can be seen perched behind Putin’s right shoulder, almost smiling as he delivers his speech.
Although she is sporting full military gear, some people suspect she has more stage presence than soldier experience.
That’s because the mystery blonde has already cropped up in a number of Mad Vlad’s promo clips as a prop.
She has moonlighted as a sailor as well as a church worshipper in a series of other videos – alongside a few male comrades.
Putin’s female associate was seen donning hi-vis waterproofs while on a fishing boat with the President, but this time let her locks hang loose.
She is joined by three blokes on the ship – who also seem to have made multiple appearances in Russian propaganda.
The trio were recognised in a number of other pieces of footage by savvy internet sleuths – including a camping trip and a breakfast meeting.
Some have claimed the mystery woman resembles Larisa Sergukhina, a Member of the Commission of the Regional Duma on monitoring of legislation.
The blonde’s male accomplices are suspected to have joined her on the boat as well as at the church service she was pictured at.
Putin has been blasted for using “paid actors” in his latest desperate attempt at feigning support for his disastrous invasion.
Social media users suggested he was trying to “copy” President Zelensky’s respectful displays in Bakhmut.
The Ukrainian leader made an unannounced visit to the devastated city, meeting troops and handing out awards to soldiers on December 20.
Nobel peace prize 2022 co-winner Oleksandra Matviichuk was among those who shared photos of Putin’s “actors”.
She said: “Putin wanted to copy Zelensky, who came to the Ukrainian defenders in Bakhmut. But after ten months of full-scale war, even actors are in short supply in Russia.”
The President was previously accused of faking public appearances by using actors back in May this year.
He was suspected to have staged a visit to a military hospital in Moscow after one of the “patients” was supposedly recognised from a previous visit to a factory.
It was claimed Putin employs trusted stooges so he can avoid any contact with real Russians.
As well as speculation surrounding his soldiers, the state of Putin’s health is also under suspicion.
Question marks hang over the 70-year-old tyrant’s condition as rumours swirl he is battling cancer and even Parkinson’s disease.
It comes as new Western intelligence analysis claims Putin is suffering from megalomania caused by cancer drugs.
A senior spy official from Denmark alleged “delusions of grandeur” and the Russian president’s “moon-shaped face” in early 2022 were signs of the side effects of hormone treatment.
Rumours have persisted that Putin is “critically ill” and bombshell spy documents leaked to The Sun appeared to confirm he has early-stage Parkinson’s disease and pancreatic cancer.
His New Year address – the longest of his two-decade rule – was riddled with coughs and splitters.
But Putin still managed to send a massive bombardment of missiles to decimate Ukraine on New Year’s Eve.
As celebrations got underway across the world in the early hours of New Year’s Day, another wave and rockets were fired.
Ukraine said air defense systems managed to intercept 23 targets over Kyiv amid a string of drone attacks.