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Sick or trying to convince the West of this: what is happening to Putin's health

The media spread information that an oligarch close to the Kremlin on an audio recording states that the Russian president is "severely ill with blood cancer," reports newlines.

Photo: Shutterstock

Is this true, idle speculation, or disinformation designed to make a disorderly and paranoid dictator vulnerable?

The tabloid press, bolstered by the sudden rise of diagnosticians on Twitter, seems to think so. Ever since his invasion of Ukraine began on Feb. 24, the deteriorating health of the 69-year-old Russian president has been the subject of wild speculation.

Boris Karpichkov, a KGB defector to the UK (and a former counterintelligence officer in the Second Chief Directorate), believes his colleague suffers from Parkinson's disease, as well as "numerous" other illnesses, including dementia. “He is ill, or at least he behaves like a lunatic and obsessed with ideas and paranoia,” Karpichkov said, comparing Putin in this regard to Stalin, who suffered at least one stroke.

A Telegram channel called General SVR, allegedly headed by a former officer of the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service, said that Putin will have an operation for an unidentified form of cancer in the near future and that while he is on the operating table, he will be replaced by a gloomy Nikolai Patrushev, secretary of the Russian National Security Council, a former KGB officer and longtime director of one of the agencies. Patrushev is also one of the regime's most vehement ideologues.

On the subject: Superyacht worth $700 million confiscated in Italy: it is assumed that it belongs to Putin

The evidence for the scattered, if not contradictory, claims of Putin's imminent demise is Putin himself. He sure looks bad. A puffy face, a clumsy gait, a restless demeanor at televised events, including an April 22 meeting with his defense minister, Sergei Shoigu, in which a hunched-over Putin clutched the edge of a tiny table as if trying to keep himself from shivering or dizziness. There is also his notorious self-isolation amid the COVID-19 pandemic, an oft-cited reason for holding meetings with foreign guests both before and during the war at medieval banqueting long tables. According to Russian independent media, anyone who wants to get close to Putin must take a PCR test and even submit a stool sample.

In fact, there is a growing chorus of those close to Putin or in his internal intelligence apparatus who are more aware of his actions, state of mind and body. Whether these sources are telling the truth or trying to spread misinformation is unknown. Those disillusioned with Putin's totalitarian leadership, for example, would do well to portray him as dysfunctional in order to weaken his influence at home and on the battlefields in Ukraine. The spread of rumors about his deteriorating health may also presage something more catastrophic, such as an order to launch a nuclear weapon, which is unlikely to be carried out by military leaders on behalf of a terminally ill despot.

Western governments, not to mention news organizations, also tend to make us portray Putin and the regressive state he rules in the worst possible light. When Alexander Solzhenitsyn was looking for an allegory to depict Stalin's post-purge slave empire, in which everyone from the Central Committee member to the petty apparatchik to the philistine was portrayed as complicit in the cannibalization of society, he chose cancer. The treatment of a metastatic tumor, as Solzhenitsyn knew from his own experience, can be as destructive to the body as the pathology itself.

Perhaps something from the literary heritage of Solzhenitsyn fills the rumors about Putin as a modern Sick Europe.

Then again, maybe he just is. The media obtained an audio recording of an oligarch close to the Kremlin describing Putin as "critically ill with blood cancer," although the type of blood cancer was not specified. It is impossible to independently verify this claim, as Putin's medical records are hard to come by. But the tape is a rare testimony from a man with proven ties to the Russian government that the fanatical dictator may very well be seriously ill. And the oligarch had no idea that he was being recorded.

A Western venture investor recorded a conversation in mid-March without the knowledge or consent of the oligarch. The source provided the media footage on the condition that he not be publicly identified. He says he betrayed a colleague's trust out of disgust for the war in Ukraine - a disgust that his secretly recorded interlocutor apparently shares.

“He completely destroyed the Russian economy, the Ukrainian economy, and many other economies — completely destroyed them,” the oligarch says of Putin. “The problem is with the head. One crazy person can turn the world upside down.”

Russia has sentenced to 15 years in prison those responsible for spreading “fake” information about the war in Ukraine, that is, for stating facts about it. The oligarchs, in particular, have a lot to lose, given that their ability to earn and spend their hundreds of millions or billions is inextricably tied to their loyalty to the Kremlin. Roman Abramovich, the former owner of Chelsea Football Club in London, may have been poisoned while trying to help Ukraine negotiate a peace deal. A total of eight oligarchs have been found dead since January, many with ties to Russia's lucrative energy sector; two in eerily similar circumstances, along with their wives and children, whom they allegedly killed before committing suicide.

It is reported that the source of information is currently located outside of Russia. As of 2021, his net worth was high enough to qualify him as one of the 200 richest businessmen in Russia according to Forbes. He is concerned about the pariah effect that the country's economic isolation and US and EU sanctions have had on his own portfolio in Europe, and spent most of the 11-minute tape asking a Western VC investor how he could recoup the damage.

He also goes on a rampage, denouncing the war in strong terms, debunking the Kremlin's original pretense of "trying to find Nazis and fascists." He then says that "we all hope" that Putin dies of cancer, or possibly some kind of internal interference in Moscow, such as a coup, to spare Russia further misfortune.

In addition, he personally accuses Putin of killing more than 15 Russian soldiers and 000 or 4 civilians in Ukraine. “It's incredible. For what? He killed more people than in 000 years in the Afghan war,” he says.

The veracity of these arguments was easily established through open source verification methods and consultations with former and current intelligence officials. One of the former heads of the European security service called him a member of the "close circle of 20-30 people" whom Putin met in 2014 before the covert takeover of the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea.

“The goal was to explain his military motives, why that was the only way,” the ex-official said, pointing out that the informant is – or was at the time – one of Putin’s confidants and plenipotentiaries. Another associate of the oligarch added that he was still able to provide "concrete information" about the inner workings of the Presidential Administration of Russia (the formal name of the leader's executive office).

The fact that the oligarch's claim is now widespread in Moscow's elite circles is reinforced somewhat by the fact that on March 13, a top-secret memo was sent from Lubyanka, the headquarters of the FSB, to all regional directors of the FSB.

“The memorandum instructed regional leaders not to trust rumors that the president was terminally ill,” said Hristo Grozev, head of investigations at Bellingcat, a forensic website known for exposing Russian spies and assassins. - The directors were also instructed to dispel any rumors on this score that may spread in the local divisions of the FSB. According to a source in one of the regional divisions who read the report, this unprecedented indication had the opposite effect: most of the FSB officers suddenly believed that Putin really had a serious illness. As in the bad old days of the Soviet Union, nothing is believed until the state says it's a malicious lie.

There is always a possibility that the oligarch's revelation is one of them.

“It's impossible to know for sure from the outside, but there are two patterns in the Kremlin's assessment,” said John Cypher, a former CIA officer who specializes in Russia. “On the one hand, their instinct is to lie and spread misinformation, so this chatter may be an attempt to divert attention. Or, equally likely, we are seeing outbreaks of elite struggles. Putin has long acted as the Kremlin's de facto mafia boss, the arbiter between those vying for influence or money. These clans are now preparing to survive, no matter how this crisis ends. Leaking information about Putin's health crisis - or his invention - will help gain leverage."

Curiously, the FSB memo was published less than a month before the respected Russian news outlet Proekt published an exposé showing Putin regularly traveling around Russia accompanied by medical specialists. Among them are Alexei Shcheglov and Igor Esakov, head and neck surgeons; Konstantin Sim, traumatologist-orthopedist; and Evgeny Selivanov, a neurosurgeon with a fellowship in thyroid surgery and thyroid cancer in elderly and senile patients. Shcheglov, Esakov and Selivanov are "Putin's most frequent companions," the Project found out. Putin has also resorted to homeopathic and unscientific folk remedies, according to the publication, such as baths filled with deer antler blood, which are believed to improve the cardiovascular system and improve skin color.

Putin is known to have suffered several back injuries since he first became Russian president in 2000. He fell off his horse during his first presidential term. According to a source cited by The Project, this accident put him out of action for a while. He can also be seen limping in later videos, a notable feature of his public appearances, so much so that the Kremlin's press office at one point forbade state news outlets from mentioning it. He also had a bad taste at a hockey game in Sochi in May 2017 after he was knocked down by another player. Then Sim, an orthopedic traumatologist, stayed near Putin's residence for eight days. “On at least two occasions,” Proekt reported, “Putin underwent either an operation or a very serious intervention, most likely on his back.”

The president's poor health is also credited as a reason for his long absence from the spotlight, starting in 2012. These absences led to the proliferation of what the Russians called "canned food" or pre-recorded footage of his meetings with visitors, seemingly taking place in real time.

One famous canned food was Putin's February 21 televised meeting with his national security chiefs shortly before the start of his war with Ukraine, which, judging by the dates shown on the participants' watches, was filmed earlier.

The oligarch on the audio recording also refers to Putin's back problems and suggests that they are related to blood cancer. The oligarch says Putin underwent back surgery in October 2021 — just months before his “special military operation” in Ukraine.

Be that as it may, Putin is not very cheerful today.

On March 18, at a large pro-war rally in Moscow, Putin gave a speech and was filmed walking down a short flight of stairs off the stage, most of his weight on his left foot. Just last week, at a Victory in Russia Day celebration on Red Square to commemorate the Soviet Union's victory over Nazi Germany in World War II, Putin sat with a Roosevelt-style blanket draped over his knees. The temperature in Moscow on Victory Day - May 9 - was warm. His gait during the Victory Parade was clearly clumsy, perhaps to hide his limp. And his face was even more puffy than usual.

Ashley Grossman, professor of endocrinology at the University of Oxford, said: “Putin has always been a very fit man with a slightly haggard look. But over the past couple of years, it seems to have filled in the face and neck. It's called a Cushingoid appearance, and it's compatible with steroid use."

Steroids, Grossman says, are commonly prescribed for various types of lymphoma or myeloma, plasma cell cancers that "can cause widespread bone disease and definitely affect the spine and back."

Lymphoma is generally a more aggressive type of blood cancer, requiring heavy chemotherapy that leads to hair loss, which Putin is not known to have ever experienced. Other lymphomas are lower grade, may not require chemotherapy, and are less likely to involve the bones.

Myeloma, even more aggressive forms, no longer necessarily requires chemotherapy. It can often be treated with immunomodulatory agents and steroids, neither of which hastens hair loss. However, myeloma can lead to compression fractures of the spine, causing the patient to hunch over or even lose a few inches of height.

Steroids - the most common of these, prednisolone - attack malignant lymphocytes circulating in the blood, but they are also known for two common side effects.

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First, there is a high risk of infection due to how much they deplete immune cells. “Anyone taking large doses of steroids will have a much easier time contracting COVID-19,” Grossman said, which may explain Putin’s extreme germophobia and Howard Hughes-style recourse to seclusion. Pneumonia can also easily kill an immunocompromised steroid user.

What about the second side effect?

“Deeply irrational or paranoid behavior,” she replied.

As ForumDaily wrote earlier:

  • President Putin is very worried about his body. Moves accompanied by a team of doctors and is interested in non-traditional methods of treatment.
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin to undergo surgery according to new report about cancer and temporarily hand over power to an uncompromising former director of the FSB.

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Miscellanea blood cancer At home oligarch Putin's illness
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