Pete Souza, who has photographed both President Barack Obama and President Reagan, shared the picture on Instagram earlier this week.
“In 1988, I photographed President Reagan during his visit to Moscow,” he said. “Mikhail Gorbachev, the leader of the then Soviet Union, gave Reagan a tour of Red Square where groups of ‘tourists’ (KGB agents?) were positioned around the square. Note the man on the left with the camera around his neck.
“In 1993, I published a book of photographs (’Unguarded Moments’) from my tenure at the White House during the Reagan administration. Some ten years later, I received a random letter in the mail from someone who asked if I knew I had captured a picture of Reagan and Vladimir Putin as shown on page 145 in my book. (Putin had by then become the president of Russia).
“I was astounded by this letter.”
Mr Souza said he contacted both the Reagan Library and an NSC official in the Bush 43 administration, but: “No one could definitively say whether it was Putin. In 1988, Putin was in fact in the KGB, though he was apparently stationed in East Germany.”
Mr Souza was hired as the chief White House photographer for President Obama in January 2009 and a few days before the inauguration he was interviewed on NPR.
Describing the interview, he said: “I was telling this story as an example of how the relevance of presidential photos can change over time. ‘And as soon as you see the photo you go, oh, my gosh, it really is him (Putin),’ were my exact words. A big mistake; I never should have said that, because in fact it had never been verified.
“The Kremlin apparently listens to NPR and almost immediately denied it was Putin.”
He added: “About a month after the NPR interview, I received a postcard to my home address. The Red Square photo was on the front of the postcard.
“The man in the camera was circled with a red marker, and someone had written the word ‘spy’ and drawn an arrow to the man. I turned the postcard over to the Secret Service; nothing ever came of it.”
In July 2009, Mr Souza travelled with Mr Obama to Russia, where the president met his Russian counterpart at his dacha.
Mr Souza said: “No Russian official ever said anything to me, though Robert Gibbs had teased me that I would be detained.”
President Joe Biden and and Mr Putin had their first face-to-face summit in Geneva on Thursday.
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