Fact Check: No, Putin did not kneel to Xi

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A strange photo is going viral on the internet: Did Vladimir Putin really kneel in awe in front of Xi Jinping? The picture is said to have been taken during Xi's visit to Russia – but it's a fake.

China's head of state Xi's visit to Russia made international headlines. The demonstrative closeness between Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin and the new pact signed between the two countries are seen as a sign of a strategic deepening of the partnership between the two countries – and this at a time when the West is clearly distancing itself from China Russia is demanding, not least because of the arrest warrant issued by the International Criminal Court against Putin.

Xi to visit Putin: A joint pact, but no symbolic kneeling

Against this background, a viral photo creates a lot of conversation on social media. It is intended to show Vladimir Putin kneeling in front of Xi Jinping. A gesture of submission that would have symbolic character – if the scene were real.

Claim: “Putin gets on his knees, swears obedience and loyalty to his master and master Xi,” writes a Twitter user, posting the picture mentioned. Another user scoffs that Putin's knees are already hurting. A correspondent of the Kyiv Post also shared the photo, which also spread on Telegram and imgur and was viewed well over a million times across platforms.

DW Fact Check: That Image is fake.

Putin did not bow down to Xi – the photo is a fake. Aside from the fact that such a gesture of submission from one leader in front of another would be highly unrealistic, our research suggests that the image of Xi and Putin was instead generated by an AI app. A number of indications support this. But first things first: First, we entered the photo into a reverse image search, which shows that the oldest hit is dated March 20th. A specific origin of the image could not be identified even with other reverse image search tools.

Deformed ears, a huge shoe, fused hands

A closer look at the picture reveals several details: The back shoe of the kneeling person, who is said to be Putin, is disproportionately large and wide. The calf of the same leg appears elongated. The person's half-covered head is also very large and out of proportion to the rest of the body. The ear is oddly deformed and has several undefinable bumps that Putin's ear doesn't show in other images. Xi's ear also appears deformed when enlarged. However, the most striking inconsistency in the picture does not concern Putin or Xi, but the person standing to their left. The man's hands appear to be merging.

DW image analysis reveals several anomalies in the viral photo of Putin's alleged kneeling before Xi. Ears, shoe and hands are deformed and not authentic. These aspects strongly indicate manipulation by AI

Experience has shown that all of these are abnormalities that arise with AI-generated images. These are graphics that apps create using artificial intelligence and are designed to look real. An AI program recently created images of an arrest of ex-US President Donald Trump that did not exist. Applications such as Midjourney or DALL-E enable photorealistic images of natural scenery and people, which are rich in detail and in some cases can hardly be distinguished from real photos.  However, the AI ​​applications also regularly produce errors, in particular unrealistic hand and ear representations are considered problem areas of the AI ​​image generators.

AI detector: 57 percent artificially created

Since in the case of the Putin Xi image, a lot for an AI generated graphic speaks, we also examine the image from the social media posts with an AI detector. The Hugging Face program examines images for abnormalities and makes a statement as to whether the image is more natural or artificial. When Putin kneels in front of Xi, the AI ​​detector judges: 57 percent artificially created.

Investigation via AI detector: Most likely “artificially” generated

Finally, we searched for photos showing Xi's state visit to Russia. We paid particular attention to details that are similar to those in the image of the social media posts. Result: Neither at the US photo agency Getty images nor at the Russian state news agency TASS do we find any pictures that resemble the alleged kneeling. The furniture in the actual photos of the state visit also does not match the viral image from social networks.

Conclusion: The image of Putin kneeling in front of Xi is a fake. It cannot be found in any database of the picture agencies and our research showed several clear indications that the picture was apparently created by an AI program.

You can find out more about how we track down fakes here. < br>

Fact check: How do I recognize manipulated images?