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Smooth Operator

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin at a United Russia party congress in Moscow on September 23

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin at a United Russia party congress in Moscow on September 23

As Kremlinologists continue to percolate over Medvedev, Kudrin, and 12 More Years, a gimlet-eyed subsection of the population is focusing instead on the question that has truly bedeviled Russian politics for over a year: Has Vladimir Putin gotten a facelift?

Tongues began wagging afresh after the United Russia party conference on September 24, when the 58-year-old premier announced his intention to retake the presidency and looked remarkably uncreased while doing so.

Keen observers pointed to a certain tightness around the eyes and a tendency to blink even less than usual. From certain angles, Putin's head had taken on almost spherical fullness -- a kind of Luzhkovian luster, minus the cholesterol and defeat.

London's "Daily Mail" suggested the premier -- who, after all, has now committed himself to trying to look presidential till the ripe old age of 71 -- may have undergone a facelift, cheek-fillings, a couple of brow-lifts, bag-removal, and perhaps a little "botoks." One assumes a little poison in the face is nothing to a trained KGB man. And after all, there's a precedent: Both Silvio Berlusconi and Muammar Qaddafi have admitted to having work done.

Putin spin doctor Dmitry Peskov helpfully dismissed the speculation, telling the "Mail" that as far as he knows, the prime minister hasn't been going through any "surgical interventions." But at least one London plastic surgeon said he was certain that Putin had gone under the knife because of the "dead look" in his eyes, which made us wonder if he had seen any pictures of Putin before. Another boldly suggested that any apparent eyebrow lifts had had an unfortunate "feminizing" effect.

Speculation about Putin's facial upkeep first arose in October 2010 during a trip to Kyiv, when the premier was photographed with evident bruising around his eyes. The ever-helpful Peskov chalked it up to bad lighting, but American plastic surgeon Anthony Youn, the author of the Celebrity Cosmetic Surgery blog, suggested Putin had either walked into a door or undergone an eyelid lift. A subsequent photo session at the Lake Seliger youth camp this summer by the blogger Ilya Varlamov fed speculation further, with bloggers commenting on the premier's vanishing crow's feet, narrowing eyes, and newly plumped-out cheeks.

Amid the rising din, Russia's "New Times" quizzed several presidential pool photographers, who wisely demurred when asked whether they had noticed any changes over the years beyond the normal wear and tear. The "Times," undaunted, then presented four professional surgeons with a range of photographs of Putin from the past several years. While none could agree on the precise procedure -- Botox, surgery, French cheekbone massage, or injections of calcium hydroxylapatite -- all appeared in agreement that nature was no longer in charge of Vladimir Putin's face. The New Times ultimately concluded that the premier's new look was a product of Botox, eyelid tucks, and Radiesse filler injections in the cheeks.

Psychologist Aleksandr Komanovsky told the "New Times" that successful men in their 50s and 60s who seek to change their appearance do so because they are suffering from nagging self-doubt. "The feeling of security or insecurity in a man of this age is to a large degree connected to the quality of self-realization," he said. "That is, is he engaged in things that matter to him, or in things that are random or temporary?" Perhaps, in this light, Saturday's switcheroo is making even more sense. Step aside, Medvedev! Get this man back where he belongs, before he goes all Joan Rivers on us.

-- Daisy Sindelar

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Written by RFE/RL editors and correspondents, Transmission serves up news, comment, and the odd silly dictator story. While our primary concern is with foreign policy, Transmission is also a place for the ideas -- some serious, some irreverent -- that bubble up from our bureaus. The name recognizes RFE/RL's role as a surrogate broadcaster to places without free media. You can write us at

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