Following last month’s brief mutiny by Wagner Group chief Yevgeny Prigozhin, there is no denying that Russian President Vladimir Putin has been greatly weakened. While the rebellion was short-lived and more importantly unsuccessful – although its exact purpose remains one of debate – it likely has shown that Putin isn’t invincible.
Moreover, it follows months of rumors that the Russian leader could be suffering from a serious illness.
It was last November that a leaked intelligence document claimed that the 70-year-old strongman had been diagnosed with early-stage Parkinson’s disease, and it was reportedly already progressing. According to sources, Putin was also being regularly “stuffed with all kinds of heavy steroids and innovative painkilling injections to stop the spread of pancreatic cancer he was recently diagnosed with.” In addition to pancreatic cancer, the Russian leader may also have prostate cancer – the documents alleged.
The veracity of the documents has not been independently verified, but the rumors have continued to circulate – with reports coming as recently as this past April following Pentagon files that were posted to the Discord messaging service earlier this year.
According to the documents that were leaked by Jack Teixeira – a 21-year-old member of the Massachusetts Air National Guard’s intelligence wing, who is now facing six counts of retaining and transmitting sensitive national defense information – the Russian president was allegedly scheduled to start a round of chemotherapy in March.
Putin Rumors: Smoke But No Fire?
To date, there remains little concrete proof that Vladimir Putin is suffering from any illness, including cancer.
John Sipher, a former CIA official who ran the agency’s Russia operations, told The New York Times this is really a predictable byproduct of the aura of mystery around powerful autocrats who keep their distance from observers and their personal lives well concealed. There has been similar speculation over the health of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and Chinese President Xi Jinping.
“I’ve never put much stock in health talk,” Sipher told the paper of record. “We’ve heard the same stuff for years. I just think that it’s always a discussion point in closed societies where they hide and lie about everything.”
The Strongman or Sick Man?
Yet, just because there are rumors that Putin is sick doesn’t mean it isn’t true.
Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler likely suffered from a number of illnesses, which were largely concealed from the German people. These may have included cardiac dysrhythmia, coronary arterial disease, syphilis, borderline personality disorder, amphetamine addiction, and importantly, Parkinson’s disease.
Likewise, Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin suffered a mild stroke and severe heart attack in 1945, while Mao Zedong was in ill health for years before he died from a heart attack in 1976 at age 82. Few in the Soviet Union or Communist China likely knew their respective leaders were anything but a model of perfect health.
And it wasn’t just strongmen who had their ill health concealed from the public.
President Franklin Roosevelt went to great lengths to hide the fact that he was diagnosed with infantile paralysis (polio) in 1921 when he was 39 years old. The American press largely helped conceal the fact throughout his administration, while there were few reports that FDR was seriously ill during the 1944 presidential election.
Such a cover-up could never occur in the United States today. In the case of Putin, he may be ill, but few in the tightly controlled Russian media are about to report on it.
Author Experience and Expertise
A Senior Editor for 19FortyFive, Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer. He has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers, and websites with over 3,200 published pieces over a twenty-year career in journalism. He regularly writes about military hardware, firearms history, cybersecurity, politics, and international affairs. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes and Clearance Jobs. You can follow him on Twitter: @PeterSuciu.