- Former spies and Ukrainian officials have fueled speculation that Russian President Vladimir Putin is in poor health.
- But US military and intelligence experts say there is no clear or credible evidence that Putin is unwell.
- One expert said these rumors may be a sign of wishful thinking that Putin’s death will somehow end the brutal war.
Rumors have swirled over the past few weeks that Russian President Vladimir Putin is doing poorly and is somehow losing ground.
The tough guy and former KGB agent, who is approaching 70, has spent years creating a macho image – he rides a shirtless horse, plays hockey and flaunts his judo moves. During his nearly two decades in power, Putin was seen as a measured, unemotional leader. But the bare-shirted knight’s mood appears to have changed since he launched an unprovoked all-out war in Ukraine in late February. His cheeks are swollen and bored, and his speeches are full of toxins.
The war in Ukraine has been so disastrous for the Russian military that many wonder what caused Putin to misjudge himself. Some suspect that he suffers from mental decline. Others rumor that Putin is seriously ill, drawing far-reaching conclusions from subtle aspects of his behavior. Even the shaking of the Russian leader’s feet was enough to spark a flurry of speculation about his health.
But three US intelligence and military experts who spoke to Insider say they do not attach much importance to persistent speculation that the Russian leader is in a state of physical decline — a theory that has not been supported by doctors or medical experts.
Jeffrey Edmonds, a former director of Russia at the National Security Council and a former military analyst for the CIA, told Insider he saw “nothing really credible” to support the idea that Putin is not doing well.
“What others and I have seen is a clear change in his behavior,” Edmonds said, adding that Putin “usually has been the voice of calm in Russia but has become more emotional and publicly angry.” Edmunds added that this indicates that Putin is “not happy with something”.
Putin is leading a war that has killed an estimated 15,000 Russian soldiers, possibly many more, in a matter of months. A large number of Russian generals were killed. Ukrainian roads have practically become cemeteries for Russian tanks. The Russian army, which was widely expected to move Ukrainian forces within days, failed to take Kyiv.
Meanwhile, the United States and its allies moved to isolate Moscow economically and politically, and imposed a series of unprecedented sanctions on Russia that contributed to high inflation and supply shortages reminiscent of the Soviet era. The head of the Russian Central Bank warned this week that it will be “difficult for companies and citizens” in the coming months.
But Putin showed no sign of giving up. He has been obsessed with Ukraine for years — and viewed it primarily as Moscow’s land — and prominent Russia watchers say Putin will never give up his goal of subjugating the Ukrainians. As long as he sits in the Kremlin and monitors the world’s largest nuclear arsenal, Ukraine faces an existential threat.
With so much power at the center of Putin, his health has become an understandable topic of interest to both the public and the intelligence community. However, according to experts, this is still an issue that even the US intelligence services are groping in the dark.
Conjecture about Putin’s health comes from a number of questionable sources.
In an interview with Sky News in mid-May, the head of the Ukrainian Military Intelligence, Major General Kirilu Budanov, claimed without evidence that Putin had cancer, and said that a coup d’état that would replace the Russian leader was underway.
Meanwhile, former British spy Christopher Steele told Sky News that Putin is “increasingly ill” and his leadership is in danger. Steele – known for compiling a discredited dossier filled with unverified lewd allegations about Donald Trump’s ties to Russia – quoted “unnamed sources in Russia and elsewhere”.
Washington lawmakers such as Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, the top Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee, also played their part. “I wish I could say more, but for now I can say it is very clear to many that something is wrong with Putin,” Rubio He said In a tweet in late February.
The fact that many of the recent allegations about Putin’s health come from the head of Ukraine’s military intelligence, who may be trying to undermine the Russian leader’s authority and sow discord in the corridors of the Kremlin, provides good reason to question their veracity.
Reports from a subsidiary of Russia’s Proekt company revealed evidence that Putin had chronic back problems, and repeatedly disappeared from view for several days, sometimes traveling with an extensive medical team. But none of this behavior is particularly unusual for a 69-year-old despot bent on staying in power for life.
Kevin Ryan, a retired brigadier general and former military attache to Russia, said rampant speculation could also be a sign of wishful thinking that Putin’s death will somehow end the brutal war. Ryan said he saw “no evidence” that Putin was near death or suffering anything that weakens him, stressing that even his death would not necessarily lead to a ceasefire or an end to hostilities in Ukraine.
“Of course everyone will die, but I don’t think this war was made by Putin alone,” Ryan said, adding that “his death may affect its course, but the ruling circle that supported him will still exist.” “
“It’s all embarrassing.”
Many theories about Putin’s health are the result of discussions about his physical appearance and behavior in public.
British newspapers and various commenters They noted that Putin has Parkinson’s disease and focused on the Russian president’s pecking and flicking during the meetings. Others focused on Putin’s more swollen face than usual as possible evidence that his health was in poor shape. However, by themselves these are not inherent signs of a serious condition.
“I can’t find any evidence of Parkinson’s in Putin,” said Ray Chadori, a neurologist at University College London. He told DW in April after seeing a video of Putin with Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, which has been the focus of Parkinson’s disease speculation.
Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper told Insider he was surprised by recent photos of Putin showing a swollen face, which raises questions about whether the Russian leader might be receiving any form of treatment that causes the swelling. But Clapper insisted it was “all just a circumstance,” and said he doubted US intelligence “knew for sure whether he was sick or not.”
“This type of information has traditionally been very difficult to obtain,” Clapper said, adding that it remained a “legitimate line of inquiry.”
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