INVESTIGATION: Putin never visited Tanzania in the 1970s

A black and white image which some people falsely claim shows Russian president Vladimir Putin training liberation movements in southern Africa, has been circulating.

It has been used by some to justify why African countries should support Russia in the war in Ukraine.

The image was also posted on Twitter by Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni’s son.

But it doesn’t show Mr Putin in Africa, and the time when people are claiming it was taken is also incorrect.

Putin wasn’t in Tanzania

The photograph was widely shared online after it was posted in Zimbabwean blogs at the end of 2018.

The posts claimed it shows Mr Putin in a Tanzanian military training camp for southern African independence movements in 1973.

Also present in the photo, it was claimed, were future Mozambique President Samora Machel and Emmerson Mnangagwa, now the president of Zimbabwe.

“Putin stayed in Tanzania training freedom fighters for four years from 1973 to 1977,” the blogs also claimed

However, there is no evidence either from Russian or African records of Mr Putin, who was born in 1952, having been to the continent during the 1970s.

Mr Putin’s profile on the Kremlin website shows that he was studying at the Leningrad State University at the time, and graduated in 1975.

“The claim is just ridiculous,” says Paul Fauvet, a journalist who has lived in Mozambique for several decades.

Training offered to Mozambican freedom fighters in camps in Tanzania, he says, “was conducted by Chinese instructors and not the Soviets”.

Also, Mr Mnangagwa could not have been in Tanzania in 1973 as he was arrested in 1965 and imprisoned for 10 years by the white-minority government of the then Southern Rhodesia.

A Russian tour of Mozambique in the 1980s?

Zimbabwean author Renato Matusse used the photo in his 2018 book, where he says it shows Mr Machel with Soviet military advisers touring a military facility near the Mozambican capital Maputo in the mid-1980s.

But he says it’s clear that Mr Putin is not the man in question.

Mr Putin was working as a KGB agent in East Germany between 1985 and 1990 and early on would have been a low-ranking officer, which makes it highly unlikely that he would have been a leading member of such a delegation.

There is also no mention of him having visited Mozambique by the Kremlin, or in any of his biographies.

José Milhazes, a historian and journalist, suggests the person appearing in the photo was another senior Soviet official serving in southern Africa.

“As for the similarities, I can only say that they are pure coincidence,” he says.

Georgi Derluguian, who worked as a Portuguese-Russian interpreter in the 1980s, and is now a professor at New York University Abu Dhabi, says the claim that the man in the photo is Mr Putin “is a joke”.

He says the boots worn indicate the person is a military man, while Mr Putin was an intelligence officer. The appearance is also more like that of an older Mr Putin.

And one final piece to add to this puzzle. The mystery man in the photograph is wearing a watch on his left arm. Mr Putin — at least nowadays — habitually wears one on his right.

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