Even before Russia invaded Ukraine in early 2022, rumors consistently swirled regarding Vladimir Putin’s suspected health decline.
Back in 2020, Russian political pundit Professor Valery Solovei suggested that Kremlin officials were pressuring Putin to step down due to fears surrounding his health.
Although the Kremlin dismissed this claim as untrue, similar reports have circulated over the last couple of years.
Video footage and photographs depicting Putin appearing to limp or shake have caused many to speculate that the Russian president may be suffering from a range of conditions, including Parkinson’s Disease or cancer.
Russia is obviously a well-oiled misinformation machine, however, so the prospects of understanding the reality of Putin’s health are extremely low.
Here is some of the ideas and claims that are out there and what we know:
Putin and Cancer claims
Western analysts and intelligence officials have echoed claims regarding Putin’s failing health since the onset of Russia’s invasion. While there may be some truth to these claims, wishful thinking is probably the main motivator behind the spreading of rumors.
Three U.S. intelligence leaders in June 2022 read reports that Putin had undergone cancer treatments last April, according to Newsweek.
The three officials, including a retired Air Force senior leader, an official from the Director of National Intelligence and an official from the Defense Intelligence Agency also cautioned that providing an accurate health assessment was challenging due to the Russian President’s isolation.
An even earlier report in The Daily Star cited an “anonymous intelligence source at the Pentagon” also claimed that Putin was suffering from terminal cancer.
In addition to cancer rumors, media outlets have circulated the story that Putin may have developed Parkinson’s Disease, a progressive neurological condition that impacts movement.
This month, video footage depicting Putin making an unannounced visit to Crimea has heightened the Parkinson’s rumors. In the video, the 70-year-old president appeared to be limping periodically while visiting Crimea’s largest city on the Black Sea coast.
Putin, surrounded by bodyguards in the video, appears to be experiencing discomfort. Adviser to the Minister of Internal Affairs of Ukraine Anton Gerashchenko also tweeted out a link to the video.
“A visibly limping Putin arrived in occupied Crimea Russian sources report,” Gerashchenko wrote, adding that “Putin’s visit to Sevastopol to «celebrate» the anniversary of the annexation of Crimea Which, by the way, will be one of the items on Putin’s list of accusations at The Hague Court.”
Ukrainian officials have often contributed to the rumor-mill regarding Putin’s health over the last year. In January, Ukraine’s Intelligence Chief claimed that Putin was terminally ill with cancer. Kyrylo Budanov told ABC News that Putin “He has been sick for a long time. I am sure he has cancer. I think he will die very quickly. I hope very soon.” At the same time, Russian officials and experts claim the rumor-mill is full of “non-stories.”
Emeritus Professor of Russian and European Politics Richard Sakwa from the University of Kent recently told Newsweek that there is no serious evidence that can substantiate any of the claims about Putin being very ill.
Even if the Russian president were truly ill with a debilitating disease, the details would certainly be held back from public consumption. Russia has suffered some humiliating defeats in its ongoing invasion of Ukraine, making a potential health scare the last thing the Kremlin needs to deal with.
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Maya Carlin is a Senior Editor with 19FortyFive. She is also an analyst with the Center for Security Policy and a former Anna Sobol Levy Fellow at IDC Herzliya in Israel. She has by-lines in many publications, including The National Interest, Jerusalem Post, and Times of Israel.