The rumor persists – and was constantly fueled in the course of the Ukraine war: Russian President Vladimir Putin is said to be seriously ill. Sometimes there is talk of Parkinson’s, sometimes of dementia. And again and again from cancer. Reports of this kind have been increasing since this spring, and they are always based on supposed information from secret service circles.
This is also the case these days: First, the British “Mirror” reported last Saturday, citing an agent of the Russian secret service FSB, of advanced cancer, dwindling eyesight and a maximum life expectancy of three years.
Now the US magazine “Newsweek” is following suit. There it says, with reference to a US intelligence dossier, that Putin was treated in a special clinic in April. The reason: “advanced cancer”. Accordingly, the Kremlin boss should have recovered.
At the same time, three high-ranking US sources emphasize in the “Newsweek” report that Putin’s increased isolation makes it difficult to assess his health. In the course of the Russian war of aggression against Ukraine, Putin only met with a few foreign officials and politicians. One of the whistleblowers is quoted as saying that “one of the best sources of information, contact with outsiders, has largely dried up”.
The informants for the Newsweek article are believed to be from the DIA military intelligence agency and the NSA foreign intelligence agency, the third being a retired senior Air Force officer. According to the report, the dossier mentioned is the fourth comprehensive assessment by the US secret services of the person Vladimir Putin. At the beginning of October, the Russian head of state will be 70 years old.
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Reports such as those from “Newsweek” or “Mirror” cannot be seriously verified due to the nebulous source situation, which is why the suspicion of propaganda from the Western side cannot be completely dispelled.
To make matters worse, US National Security Council (NSC) spokeswoman Adrienne Watson told Newsweek, “Reports that such intelligence assessments exist or that they have been shared with the President are untrue.” Again, this is not true initially not verifiable and can be interpreted as part of a diplomatic agenda.
Irrespective of this, the sources quoted by “Newsweek” also admit that US secret services have already made historical misjudgments, for example with regard to the former Iraqi ruler Saddam Hussein or the ex-Taliban leader Osama bin Laden. At the same time, they provide an insight into intelligence mindsets, as now in the case of Putin.
The gestures and behavior of the Kremlin chief would be analyzed in detail. Accordingly, at the beginning of February, well before the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the visit of French President Emmanuel Macron also played a special role. “There was no handshake, no warm hug, and we noticed that,” said one of the Newsweek sources.
While Macron’s visit took place at the notorious long table in the Kremlin, at the end of April Putin received his Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu at a small table – and clung to it throughout. Video of the scene went around the world.
This was also analyzed accordingly, as was Putin’s appearance on “Victory Day” on May 9th. At that time, the 69-year-old appeared more bloated in the face than before and sat there temporarily slumped. For US intelligence agencies, all of those observations are signs of a serious health situation, the report said.
At the beginning of April, the Russian investigative platform Proekt claimed that Putin was suffering from cancer. In the report, the association writes of a thyroid tumor and that the head of state is always accompanied by several doctors and medical staff.
Speculations about the deteriorating state of health of the Russian head of state recently forced the Kremlin to react. The most recent denial dates from the end of May: “I don’t think that reasonable people can see signs of any kind of illness or infirmity in this person,” Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told French TV channel TF1, noting that Putin “every day” publicly appear.
In fact, the President has noticeably increased the number of his activities – telephone calls, video conferences, domestic PR visits – in the recent past; which would certainly fit with the theory of recovery after medical treatment, but less with the portrayal of a seriously ill person who could hardly cope.
At the same time, US intelligence services also interpreted Lavrov’s denials as a “diagnosis that should be listened to,” said one of the “Newsweek” informants. Accordingly, the authorities continued to assume that Putin’s health was still “challenged”.
“Putin’s influence is strong, but no longer absolute,” says one of the other two US officials. This is also important for the course of the war in Ukraine, since Russia’s head of state could possibly be less assertive: “A weakened Putin – an obviously weakening leader – has less influence on his advisors and subordinates,” said one of the informants.
And how is the health of the Russian President? “Putin is definitely sick,” the former US Air Force officer is quoted as saying. “But we shouldn’t let waiting for his death dictate our proactive actions.”
At the same time, all three sources claim that Putin is becoming increasingly paranoid about his position of power. According to the report, the Kremlin’s security service prevented an assassination attempt on Putin in March – i.e. before the cancer operation alleged in the report. However, this is not proven either.
If one believes the information provided by the quoted US secret service officials, then there is rumbling within the Russian state apparatus. The head of the Ukrainian military intelligence service, Major General Kyrylo Budanov, also claimed in mid-May – albeit without providing any evidence and thus probably in favor of his own war propaganda – that a putsch was underway.
The US news services probably see it in a similar way: “The wrangling inside the Kremlin has never been so intense during his rule, and everyone feels that the end is near,” says the “Newsweek” report.