Video shows church choir singing for late Thai king, not 'Putin tribute'

After Russian President Vladimir Putin secured a record-breaking fifth term, footage of a church choir circulated in social media posts that falsely claimed they were performing the Thai royal anthem at his inauguration ceremony in Moscow. However, the video was in fact filmed years earlier in Phuket and shows a tribute to Thailand's late King Bhumibol Adulyadej following his death in 2016.

"His Majesty's royal power spreads far and wide!" read a Thai-language Facebook post shared on May 24, 2024.

"Putin inaugurated his fifth term as president and the inauguration ceremony was accompanied by the Thai royal anthem."

Russia and Thailand have historically enjoyed close ties, and the Thai royal palace congratulated Putin on securing a fresh six-year mandate in May. 

Text on the video claims it shows a church in Moscow that performs the Thai royal anthem every morning, adding: "Even such a powerful nation still honours the monarchy of Thailand".

Screenshot of the false Facebook post, taken June 4, 2024

Similar Facebook posts falsely linked to footage to Putin's inauguration, while posts from 2023 claimed it showed the Thai royal anthem sung at a Moscow church.

Some Facebook users appeared to believe the video showed the choir honouring Putin.

"Putin has implemented His Majesty King Bhumibol's philosophy to develop his country and it has developed beyond expectations!" one comment read.

"My heart considers the Russian people as relatives. I love you Putin," another wrote.

Old Phuket video

A reverse image search on Google found the video in an article from 2016 which said it showed a ceremony at a church in the Thai province of Phuket -- not Moscow.

Thai newspaper Khaosod published the footage in a report from November 2016 about the Holy Trinity Church in Phuket paying tribute to Thai King Bhumibol (archived link).

Bhumibol died the previous month following a seven-decade reign and was revered by Thais as a symbol of unity in a politically chaotic country.

He remains widely adored in Thailand and was revered as the country's moral authority.

AFP confirmed the video was filmed at the Holy Trinity Church in Phuket by comparing the footage to Google Maps images from inside the church.

Below is a screenshot comparison between the YouTube video (left) and Google Maps images from inside the Holy Trinity Church in Phuket (right), with similarities highlighted by AFP:

Screenshot comparison between the YouTube video (left) and Google Maps images from inside the Holy Trinity Church in Phuket (right)

Meanwhile, keyword searches found a YouTube video that identified a priest seen in the video as Father Oleg Cherepanin (archived link).

A Google search for the priest found his profile on the Russian Orthodox Church's website, which says he is dean of the Patriarchal Parishes in Thailand (archived link).

Screenshot comparison between the false post (left) and the profile photo of Oleg Cherepanin (right) with a red circle made by AFP

Various news reports here and here name him as parish priest of the Holy Trinity Church in Phuket (archived links here and here).

A spokesperson for the Orthodox Christian Church Foundation in Thailand confirmed to AFP that the video shows a ceremony in memory of the late Thai king at the church on November 4, 2016.

AFP previously fact-checked misinformation about Russia-Thailand relations here.

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