On Thursday, 90210 reboot actress–turned-activist Annalynne McCord became the day’s designated internet laughingstock for lamenting, in a video she posted online, that she was not Russian President Vladimir Putin’s mother. There were several strange elements to the situation, not least a D-list actress’ suggestion that all the world’s horrors might be solved by better mothering, but stranger still might be this: McCord is not the first woman to publicly profess delusions of being Putin’s mother.
You see, there is, or was, a woman in Georgia named Vera Putina who has claimed since 1999 that Putin is her son. (Putina was born in 1926, so if she’s still living—which I could not determine—she would be an impressive 95 years old today.) Official biographies have always identified Putin’s parents as Navy serviceman Vladimir Spiridonovich Putin and factory worker Maria Ivanovna Putina (née Shelomova), but Vera Putina told the Telegraph in 2008 that she had a son who she sent to live with his grandparents in Russia in 1960 when he was 10, after which she believes he was adopted by the couple that Putin has publicly presented as his parents. According to Vera Putina, who said she called her son the nickname “Vova” as a child, his father was a Russian mechanic (who was married to another woman at the time he got Putina pregnant). She claimed that she didn’t see her son between age 10 and years later in 1999, when she spotted him on television.
Although Putin was actually born in 1952, Putina had an explanation for that: “In Russia, he had to repeat a few grades because he couldn’t speak Russian,” she told Georgian television reporters. “That’s why they changed his year of birth.” (You watch her full interview here, part of which appears to take place while Putina is standing in some bushes.) There were also people and records in Putina’s village who corroborated her story, and it’s true that there are major gaps in what is known of Putin’s childhood. Yet, despite a documentary called Putin’s Mama and at least some historian interest, this revelation failed to gain much traction worldwide. The Kremlin vigorously denied it, and the 2008 Telegraph story also raises the possibility that it could have been part of a propaganda war between Russia and Georgia. But there was also talk of conspiracies: Several journalists who were supposedly reporting on Putina came to untimely deaths before their stories were released into the world. (Annalynne McCord might want to watch her back just in case.)
If Putina is still alive, she was last reported to be living in rural Georgia, where people are likely even less familiar than people in the U.S. with the work of Annalynne McCord. I could not reach Putina for comment, but in an interview in the mid-2000s, she appeared less bullish on what she could have done differently with her purported son: “What can one do? I’m my own person, and he is his own, too. Isn’t that the case?” As for Putin’s official, state-sanctioned mother, Maria Ivanovna Putina, she died in 1998, so we are also sadly unable to get her take either.
Still, that makes three women who have either claimed or expressed a wish to be Putin’s mother. By the facts of biology, only one of them can be, which raises the question: What is it about Putin that makes women so eager to view him from a parental perspective? Is this common with world leaders of all stripes, or just the strongmen? Not since the New York Times polled its readers on whether they would travel back in time and kill Baby Hitler have we had the opportunity to think so much about baby dictators. So thank you to Annalynne McCord for giving us an excuse to revisit the strange saga of Vera Putina and the enduring mystery of Putin’s maternity.