Rumors continue about Putin health – What is the truth about Putin illness and whether it may constitute a change in the war?
Putin health news
The rumours have spanned the gamut: Vladimir Putin is suffering from cancer or Parkinson’s disease, say unconfirmed and unverifiable reports, the Russian leader has survived a coup attempt or, as some tabloids think, he is already dead and has been replaced by a body double.
Photographs of Putin meeting top aides are inspected in microscopic detail: is he gripping the table in pain during a meeting with defence minister Sergei Shoigu in late April? Is his puffy face a sign of steroid use, as former foreign secretary Lord Owen claimed in March?
As Russia’s war in Ukraine enters its fourth month, reports suggest that Russia’s leader may be ill. But that may be just wishful thinking for Putin’s many critics, who appear ready to embrace conspiracy theories of divine vengeance or palace coups for his unrelenting assault on Ukraine.
In an interview on Sunday, Russia’s foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, was forced to deny speculation that Putin was ill or dying, as the diplomat continued to defend Russia’s assault on Ukraine.
“President Vladimir Putin appears in public every day,” Lavrov said in an interview with French television. “You can watch him on screens, read and listen to his performances. I don’t think that sane people can see signs of some kind of illness or poor health.”
He said he left reports of Putin’s poor health “on the conscience of those who spread such rumours”.
On Monday, Putin spoke with the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, and chaired a meeting of his security council. Both meetings were held remotely, as the Kremlin leader continues his coronavirus isolation. Aides and world leaders who have met Putin but have not quarantined have been forced to sit at a long table, dozens of metres away from the president.
Last week, Ukrainian military intelligence chief Kyrylo Budanov said he believed that Putin was both seriously ill and that he had survived a recent coup attempt, saying only that the supposed attackers came from the Caucasus region.
“He has several serious illnesses, one of which is cancer,” Budanov told the Ukrainian outlet Ukrainskaya Pravda. “But it’s not worth hoping that Putin will die tomorrow.” He also claimed that a coup “will eventually lead to the change of leadership of the Russian Federation. This process has already been launched.”
A former Soviet spy has claimed that Putin has Parkinson’s disease, while New Lines Magazine claimed to have obtained a recording of an oligarch saying Putin is “very ill with blood cancer”. Neither of the reports have been confirmed.
One report from the Proekt investigative website said that Putin is believed to have thyroid cancer or another disease.
The report was based on leaked travel documents that showed that Putin had received regular visits from an oncologist and from two otolaryngologists, whom the outlet said would often make a first diagnosis of a thyroid condition. The Kremlin has not confirmed any reports about Putin being sick, saying that the Russian leader is in excellent health. Dmitri Peskov, a Kremlin spokesman, called it a “fabrication and untruth”.
Rumours of Putin suffering from illness and injury have stretched back for more than two decades and are, to a certain degree, the fault of the Kremlin for closely guarding information about Putin’s health and whereabouts.
Since taking power, Putin has been portrayed as an active sportsman to contrast with the image of Boris Yeltsin as a heavy drinker whose poor health made him an even poorer leader.
But Putin has disappeared for weeks at a time in the past, amid reports of sporting injuries from ice hockey and judo. He recently told an interviewer that he had fallen off a horse early in his presidency as well.
The Kremlin has regularly used pre-filmed reports, often called “conserves”, to make it appear that Putin is in meetings when he is in fact unaccounted for. One extended absence took place during the coronavirus outbreak, when Putin claimed to be in Moscow while reports said he was in Sochi, occasionally appearing in an identical office as if in Moscow.
Since the beginning of the war, some reports have focused specifically on Putin’s pained body language, suggesting that he may have some back problems. A bulky frame has been explained alternatively as the president wearing a back corset or some kind of body armour when in public.
Those rumours gained steam when Putin noticeably grimaced during a meeting with Shoigu in late April. Putin will turn 70 in October and the focus on his health is likely to continue as he ages. But Budanov said he believed that Putin “still has at least a few years left. Whether we like it or not, that’s the truth.”
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