Citing an unnamed intelligence source at the UK’s Secret Intelligence Service MI6, the Daily Star reported on 28 May that Putin was “very ill”, possibly “already dead”, with the Kremlin using lookalikes to conceal his demise. The Sunday Mirror followed up the next day with its own assertions under the headline, “Vladimir Putin may already be dead with a body double taking his place, MI6 chiefs claim.”
The unnamed sources do not offer definitive proof, perhaps unsurprisingly given the secrecy surrounding the president’s health and security. Instead, they rely largely on rumours swirling within the intelligence community and the old Soviet-era practice of Kremlinology.
However, we have indirect evidences . Some years ago the kremlin has placed so much emphasis on his supposed physical prowess during his early years in power, staging photographs of him riding a horse bare-chested and swimming in a Siberian lake to demonstrate his literal fitness for office, after the shuffling, frequently drunken figure of his predecessor Boris Yeltsin. But not now. The rumours about Putin’s decline spread so far and so fast that Russia’s foreign minister Sergei Lavrov was forced to deny them during an interview with the French television channel TF1. “President Vladimir Putin makes public appearances on a daily basis,” Lavrov said, according to the Russian news agency Tass. “You can see him on TV screens, read and listen to his speeches. I don’t think that a sane person can suspect any signs of an illness or ailment in this man.”
The analysts scrutinise the russian leader’s public appearances for signs of physical decline and clues as to who might be in favour or out that putin is seriously ill or dead in the absence of official reliable information.
The most compelling reporting to date as to what has come from the independent Russian media outlet Proekt, which used leaked travel documents to show that Putin is, at a minimum, under close medical supervision. According to an investigation published on 1 April, he has frequently been accompanied on trips to his Black Sea residence in recent years by a team of top doctors, including an oncology surgeon and two otolaryngologists, which the outlet said was consistent with treatment for thyroid cancer. Putin’s spokesman Dmitri Peskov has dismissed the claims as “fabrication and untruth”. It can explain how long his doctors give him to live because of his obsession with his place in history.
Other purported proof of the 69-year-old’s imminent demise is circumstantial at best, relying on the analysis of video footage that some observers insist shows the president attempting to conceal a tremor or grimacing in pain. A televised meeting with the defence minister Sergei Shoigu on 21 April, for instance, attracted particular scrutiny as Putin slouched in his seat and gripped the table in front of him throughout the 12-minute encounter, prompting speculation that he was trying to hide a trembling hand or the involuntary movements associated with Parkinson’s disease.
More unnamed Western intelligence sources have noted his “ashen and bloated” face during recent appearances, and his “increasingly erratic behaviour”, as signs that he is receiving steroid treatment for cancer or a degenerative neurological condition. Likewise, his decision to use a woollen blanket to cover his knees while watching the Victory Day parade in Moscow’s Red Square on 9 May has been held up as evidence of his rapid decline. As the Sun newspaper reported, “‘Cancer-stricken’ Putin watches military parade with BLANKET over his legs as rumours swirl around tyrant’s health”.
So, there are two variants: the russian leader is just an ageing despot with a lousy temper and a bad back, who sometimes feels the cold in his final days or kremlin using lookalikes to conceal his demise.
In any way, very soon his allies and enemies – and those in both camps who would like have more power or survive in obviously default of nonsensical assault on Ukraine-will begin manoeuvring in earnest to replace putin or his lookalike.