EXPLAINER: Vladimir Putin’s ‘deteriorating health’ could harm ‘special military operation’ in Ukraine

Film director who had unprecedented access to Putin claims he had cancer. Credit: @maxseddon/ Twitter

REPORTS of Putin’s declining health have been a prominent fixture of the war in Ukraine but as his country struggles against Ukrainian resistance, is his ability to lead his country in question?

Despite Russian press secretary Dmitry Peskov downplaying recent media reports of Putin’s health, rumours have continued to circulate online as to whether the 69-year-old was struggling with illness – serious or otherwise.

So what rumours have there been? Let’s explain:

Parkinson’s rumours

On April 2, less than a week into his ‘special military operation’ in Ukraine, reports suggested that Putin could be suffering from two diseases: thyroid cancer, and Parkinson’s.

Russian media outlet Proekt said that Mr Putin had a coughing fit while appearing in a televised meeting in 2020, where he “publicly showed interest in the problem of thyroid cancer”.

According to their research, the president consulted health personnel up to 35 times along with two otorhinolaryngologists, and Yevgeny Selivanov, who is a cancer surgeon.

Valery Solovey, the former head of the Public Relations Department of the Moscow State Institute of International Relations, has previously said that Putin could have symptoms compatible with both thyroid cancer and Parkinson’s.

During a televised meeting between President Putin and Russia’s Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu on April 21, a bloated Vladimir Putin could be seen with a deathlike grip on the table and tapping his foot, once again fuelling rumours he has Parkinson’s.

Professor Erik Bucy, a body language expert from Texas Tech University, told The Sun at the time: “It’s an astonishingly weakened Putin compared to the man we observed even a few years ago.

“An able-bodied president would not need to keep himself propped up with a hand held out for leverage and would not be concerned about keeping both feet planted on the ground.”

Bucy added: “This is not a portrait of a healthy Putin but one appearing increasingly feeble and barely able to hold himself upright at a small conference table.

“Putin’s legs also appear quite thin, as if he may be suffering from weight or muscle loss from an unannounced malady.

“Bloating in his face reinforces an unhealthy appearance, especially compared to photographs and video of the Russian premiere from a few years ago.”

Bucy also noted that Putin looked uncomfortable and lacking in confidence.

Professor Patrick Stewart, from the University of Arkansas, noted that Putin appeared highly stressed.

“The hands being held up under the table are in an almost begging position, while holding the table is different from what I’ve seen previously – certainly holding tightly onto the podium is something we have seen from Putin when considering a stressful issue in front of the free press,” he said.

Off the back of that televised meeting, rumours picked up pace and reports at the end of April suggested that the Russian dictator may have cancer.

Cancer concerns

On April 30, an insider claimed that ‘Putin was set for a cancer operation in the near future’.

The Daily Mail reported at the time that Mr Putin may be forced to give up control of the war in Ukraine for “days” due to reportedly suffering from ‘abdominal cancer and Parkinson’s’.

According to the Telegram channel General SVR, which is said to have sources in the Kremlin, Putin had surgery scheduled for the second half of April but it was delayed.

“Putin was recommended to undergo surgery, the date of which is being discussed and agreed,” it stated.

“There seems to be no particular urgency, but it cannot be delayed either.”

It went on to say: “The Russian President Vladimir Putin has oncology, and the latest problems identified during [his latest] examination are associated with this disease.

“Doctors insist that he needs an operation, but the date has not yet been determined.

“I don’t know for exactly how long [he will be incapacitated after the surgery]…”

It added: “So, while Putin has the operation and comes to his senses…likely two or three days…the actual control of the country passes only to [Nikolai] Patrushev.”

Putin paranoid

Earlier this month, officers formerly from within his own government began passing information to the press, with some suggesting that Putin suffered from paranoia and possibly dementia.

Speaking with The Sun, a former KGB agent, Boris Karpichkov, said Putin was not in good shape: “He sees literally everyone, including those inside the Russian security services and even inside his close inner circle, to be ‘traitors’,” said the spy who defected to the West.

He added: “He is so suspicious and so obsessed with his paranoia ideas that he can be now compared with Stalin the tyrant”.

Karpichkov believes that in order to preserve his strong image, Putin could be keeping his alleged health issues secret from even his closest inner circle.

Unknown illnesses

Then on Russia’s ‘Victory Day’ on May 9, the leader was spotted keeping warm with a heavy blanket as he oversaw the victory parade in Moscow.

Putin sat among Russian military leaders and dignitaries with his knees draped in a heavy brown blanket, while none of the other attendees had blankets in the nine-degree Celsius air in Moscow.

Prior to Victory Day, Vladimir Putin was forced to miss the gala match at the Night Hockey League National Festival, which he once referred to as giving him a “better quality and deeper meaning of life”.

He was forced to miss his beloved Russian hockey match and instead issued a video message to participants, with Russian media revealing that although the reason for his absence was unknown, his health problems have been under scrutiny.

As noted by theins.ru, the president had only missed the gala match once since it began in 2012. They said that the only time had previously missed the game was in 2013 when ‘it became known that he had health problems’ relating to ‘seriously injuring himself during a fall from a horse’ that left him ‘unable to stand on his feet’.

Back in April, a Russian NGO, Project Media, released a lengthy report on President Vladimir Putin’s health that charted everything from his disappearances since he came into power to the release of pre-recorded footage of him holding meetings and reports of phone calls.

The report showed that Putin has increasingly been surrounded by doctors with up to 13 at a time appearing at his residence in Sochi or at the Kremlin.

And the report said that while he was known to have back problems following the horse fall, the number of doctors consulted in their investigations suggested something quite different.

Prior to that, on March 10, the Kremlin was forced to distribute several images of Vladimir Putin showing him in a meeting with his prime minister, and the rest of his leadership – supposedly ending rumours that he could be ill or hiding in a luxurious bunker.

The latest incidence of his alleged decline in health was on May 13 when an oligarch close to Putin was secretly recorded claiming the president was ‘very ill with blood cancer’.

According to The Metro, the oligarch whose name has been withheld for fears for his safety, was, according to New Limes Magazine, secretly taped in mid-March expressing his contempt for the “crazy” Russian President.

He is reported to have said: “[Putin] absolutely ruined Russia’s economy, Ukraine’s economy and many other economies, ruined [them] absolutely.

“The problem is with his head. One crazy guy can turn the world upside down.”

The conversation was taped when the individual sought advice from a colleague on how best to protect his investments in Europe from sanctions, the oligarch was said to be amongst the top 200 richest Russians.

In the conversation, he was heard criticising Putin for the false pretence of trying to rid Ukraine of “Nazis and fascists”, before adding that “we all hope he dies from his cancer or an internal coup.”

Unconfirmed claims

Following this leaked conversation, a memo is believed to have been circulated to regional and departmental chiefs telling them to ignore rumours about Putin’s health.

The memo and recent photos of Putin, which show him with a puffy face, have been taken by many intelligence experts to be confirmation that he is suffering some kind of illness.

Speculation continues to feed the rumour mill, with claims that Putin’s ‘poor health’ is linked to everything from dementia to cancer of the thyroid, with strong suggestions that he is suffering paranoia, impulsive behaviour and delusions, which are all known symptoms of advanced Parkinson’s.

However, until one of his closest advisors or Putin himself addresses these rumours, that is what they will remain.


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Written by

Matthew Roscoe

Originally from the UK, Matthew is based on the Costa Blanca and is a web reporter for The Euro Weekly News covering international and Spanish national news. Got a news story you want to share? Then get in touch at [email protected]

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