Putin Is Sick? What We Know
While attending Orthodox Easter services at the Cathedral of Christ last week, Putin was photographed with an odd mark on his neck.
Ukrainian politician Oleksiy Goncharenko also circulated a video on social media, noting that the Kremlin chief “didn’t look very good in church yesterday. He moved with difficulty. And in the photographs, a scar is clearly visible on his neck,” adding that “Most likely, he has undergone some kind of medical procedure…Maybe they did some kind of artificial ventilation of the lungs or something else.”
Past Rumors Fuel Current Talk
Even prior to Russia’s initial invasion of Ukraine more than fourteen months ago, rumors surrounding Putin’s alleged ailing health have swirled.
In 2020, Russian political pundit Professor Valery Solovei indicated that Kremlin officials were pressuring the president to step down from power due to his deteriorating health. While the Kremlin denounced these rumors as untrue, similar narratives have emerged in recent years.
The British tabloid The Daily Star cited an anonymous Pentagon official last spring declaring that the Russian president was suffering from terminal cancer.
A couple of months later, former UK intelligence officer Christopher Steele claimed that Putin halted lined-up meetings with his security council in order to receive “some kind of medical treatment.”
Ukraine Has Thoughts
Ukrainian officials have also mirrored the rhetoric that the Kremlin chief was in medical trouble.
In the fall, Ukraine’s head of military intelligence Major General Kyrylo Budanov said Putin was suffering physically and medically due to a serious condition. 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.”
Travel and Rumors
The Russian president’s trip to Sevastopol in March also stirred up health speculations. I
n available footage, the 70-year-old president appears to be limping while visiting Crimea’s largest city on the coast of the Black Sea. Videos and photographs depict Putin walking alongside several bodyguards and Mikhail Razvozhayev, the governor of Sevastopol. Advisor to the Minister of Internal Affairs of Ukraine Anton Gerashchenko commented on the Russian president’s appearance on Twitter, noting the limping could indicate a bigger medical issue.
Rumor or Reality?
Even if Putin were actually terminally ill, the Kremlin would never allow such a message to spread to the public and threaten the country’s offensive efforts in Ukraine. Similarly, Ukraine’s claims that the Russian president is dying also cannot be considered confirmation. Just as the Kremlin needs to fuel its own propaganda efforts, so does Kyiv. Denmark’s military intelligence service recently provided a slightly more unbiased analysis of Putin’s health.
The service told a local news outlet that while the Russian president is probably not terminally ill, he had likely been given hormone treatment for cancer in the past.
Maya Carlin, a Senior Editor for 19FortyFive, is 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. You can follow her on Twitter: @MayaCarlin.