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- Images that claim to show Russian President Vladimir Putin being arrested are fake. Putin had not been arrested at the time the photos were first shared online.
The International Criminal Court on March 17 issued an arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin, accusing him of abducting Ukrainian children and transporting them to Russia.
While Putin could risk arrest should he travel to any of the court’s 123 member countries, some social media users are using artificially generated photos to falsely claim the president’s arrest has already happened.
"Putin has been arrested. Breaking news," read the caption of a March 26 Facebook post. The post shared a video with three images of Putin being arrested, and another of him sitting in a prison cell.
The images include a watermark of a user name, which we traced to a March 22 TikTok video. That user wrote "funny picture" next to the video, adding three laughing emojis.
The posts were flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.)
Putin’s arrest would generate widespread news coverage; there have been no news reports that it has happened. And according to a Russian government website, Putin is moving ahead with business as usual.
The International Criminal Court was established in 2002 to investigate war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity and is governed by a 1998 United Nations treaty known as the Rome statute. It’s based in The Hague, a city in the Netherlands.
It does not have its own police force or enforcement body to make an arrest on its own and relies on cooperation from member states, which don’t include Russia. The only way the court could bring Putin to trial is if he turned himself in; another country arrested him within its borders; or if Putin was ousted in Russia and new leaders turned him over to the court.
Since the warrant was issued, the only foreign trip Putin has taken was March 19, when he visited Mariupol, the Ukrainian city that Russia illegally annexed in September.
The images of Putin’s alleged arrest in the social media posts provide plenty of clues that they are fake. He’s wearing different clothes in each image. The "officers" arresting Putin and leading him away in handcuffs are also wearing different uniforms in each image. In one, Putin is wearing an orange jumpsuit, sharing a cell with two other men who are not wearing prison attire.
In one image of Putin wearing a gray suit, the fingers on his left hand appear much thicker than those on his right hand. That’s likely a limitation of artificial intelligence, which struggles to capture the human hand. PolitiFact noted that flaw in a recent fact-check of images that purported to show the arrest of former President Donald Trump, which also hasn’t happened.
With Trump facing possible indictment and the arrest warrant issued for Putin, AI-generated images of both leaders being arrested have proliferated online, with people using increasingly sophisticated software to create realistic-looking images, according to The Associated Press.
Putin may one day be arrested. But we rate the claim that these photos show his arrest False.
Facebook post, March 26, 2023
TikTok video, March 22, 2023
International Criminal Court, "Situation in Ukraine: ICC judges issue arrest warrants against Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin and Maria Alekseyevna Lvova-Belova," March 17, 2023
International Criminal Court, "How the court works"
International Criminal Court, "The States Parties to the Rome Statute."
United Nations, "Treaty collection"
The New York Times, "Here’s what to know about the I.C.C.’s arrest warrant for Putin.," March 17, 2023
The Washington Post, "Putin, charged with war crimes, must limit travel to avoid arrest," March 24, 2023
NBC News, "Defiant Putin visits Mariupol in first trip to occupied eastern Ukraine," March 19, 2023
The Associated Press, "Trump arrested? Putin jailed? Fake AI images spread online," March 23, 2023
President of Russia, "Trips," accessed March 28, 2023
President of Russia, "Events," accessed March 28, 2023
PolitiFact, "These are not real photos of a Donald Trump arrest," March 20, 2023
The New Yorker, "The Uncanny Failures of A.I.-Generated Hands," March 10, 2023
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