Putin's recent appearance on TV has reignited all the theories about his deteriorating health. But one theory might well be justified.
There is definitely something going on with the health of Russia’s leader, Vladimir Putin. This was, it seems, particularly evident in a stage-managed appearance with his Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu put on for the cameras yesterday in the Kremlin.
Watch the video below to see for yourself.
Now, I don’t want to be throwing around tabloid-based theories willy-nilly. But the context of this is important: Putin has pretty much receded from public view over the last few years. When the pandemic hit, Putin hunkered down in his residence and shut himself off. This could be explained by a genuine concern over getting the virus, but makes even more sense when understood in the light of having a pre-existing condition.
I, myself, have multiple sclerosis, and when the initial variants of COVID were doing the rounds, I was just as worried and equally shut off. As The New York Times wrote in October 2020 (discussing a moveable tunnel that douses people with disinfectant):
The Federal Protective Service, Russia’s answer to the Secret Service, has helped build a virus-free bubble around President Vladimir V. Putin that far outstrips the protective measures taken by many of his foreign counterparts.
Russian journalists who cover Mr. Putin have not seen him up close since March. The few people who meet him face-to-face generally spend as much as two weeks in quarantine first. The president still conducts his meetings with senior officials — including with his cabinet and his Security Council — by video link from a spartan room in his residence outside Moscow, which has been outfitted with Ms. Izranova’s disinfectant tunnel.
This behavior together with present details is odd given his image as a bare-chested bear-wrestler. The article continues:
…Mr. Putin has retreated into an intricate cocoon of social distancing…
Dozens of World War II veterans joined Mr. Putin on the risers in Red Square in June when he presided over a military parade commemorating the 75th anniversary of the Soviet Union’s victory over Nazi Germany. But before being allowed within breathing distance of Mr. Putin, the veterans had to spend two weeks in quarantine at an isolated health resort.
This is but a small snapshot of the details of his very paranoid behavior.
There have been all sorts of theories doing the rounds on social media, but also in more reputable sources. Back in 2020, Political analyst Valery Solovei claimed Putin had cancer and symptoms of Parkinson’s, having apparently received an operation to treat his cancer. The Kremlin earlier this month denied that Putin had undergone surgery related to thyroid cancer.
The claim that he has Parkinson’s has been difficult to shake. What is the condition? It is a progressive disease:
Parkinson’s disease is a progressive nervous system disorder that affects movement. Symptoms start gradually, sometimes starting with a barely noticeable tremor in just one hand. Tremors are common, but the disorder also commonly causes stiffness or slowing of movement.
In the early stages of Parkinson’s disease, your face may show little or no expression. Your arms may not swing when you walk. Your speech may become soft or slurred. Parkinson’s disease symptoms worsen as your condition progresses over time.
This theory really does have some mileage. Many commentators have noticed how weak and disheveled Putin looked in the above video, and there are some interesting talking points.
For the entirety of the talk, Putin gripped the surface of the table with his right hand. This is a common technique for people with hand tremors to disguise and control their tremors. There really isn’t any other decent reason as to why he would be gripping the table otherwise. Furthermore, his right foot appears to be tapping and constantly moving. This is a strange juxtaposition. Both feet a planted in a very deliberate manner on the floor.
The Russian leader appears to have jammed himself in position, perhaps indicating a lack of upper-body and core strength,
Putin’s face, as many have recently observed, has been swollen for some time (together with his neck), a side-effect of many drug treatments, including steroids. Steroids can reduce the effect of the disease and some think they can reduce the risk of getting it, too.
Economist and author Anders Åslund felt both men in the meeting seemed to look sick (given the rumors that Shoigu had a heart attack at the beginning of the invasion):
Former MI6 (British Intelligence) chief Sir Richard Dearlove, discussed this theory with an Australian news platform, one that intelligence services have taken very seriously:
Several years ago it was suggested Mr. Putin had the early stages of Parkinson’s disease.
“That led to a group of one or two very distinguished neurologists examining very carefully all the recent tapes of Putin being interviewed,” Sir Richard said.
“The suggestion that’s come out of that, which is being taken pretty seriously in the UK, but of course it is speculative, is that there are clear signs, possibly of Parkinson’s.
“I don’t understand the detailed medical analysis, but I know that two symptoms, one is loss of restraint, and the other is psychosis.
“And then there’s a third factor, which is Putin’s appearance, which indicates that he might well be on steroids.
“That is, I gather, one of the standard treatments if you have got Parkinson’s, which is pretty worrying.
“I mean, if we’re dealing with someone who isn’t behaving rationally because of a medical condition. But I don’t think we can do more than speculate on that at the moment.”
Here, Putin’s actions in Ukraine are seen in light of such a health condition and the cognitive challenges it brings with it. And similar symptoms were observed back in 2020, as British tabloid The Sun reported:
Observers who studied recent footage noted his legs appeared to be in constant motion and he looked to be in pain while clutching the armrest of a chair.
His fingers are also seen to be twitching as he held a pen and gripped a cup rumoured to contain a cocktail of painkillers.
As Newsweek reports:
On April 1, the Russian news outlet Proekt published an investigative story that claimed Putin is routinely seen by a team of doctors. The site alleged that two ear, nose, and throat specialists have regularly visited Putin, as has an oncology surgeon who specializes in thyroid cancer. Proekt’s report also alleged that Putin had been using an alternative therapy that involves bathing in blood extract from severed deer antlers.
If Russian news sources can get away with reporting such claims in the present climate, we can rest assured that something is amiss.
If he does have a terminal and/or progressive condition, this could go some way to explaining his state of mind and the radical decisions he has been making.
And let’s be clear: the fact that the prime source material for this theory has been tabloid newspapers doesn’t mean it’s not true. Something explains this data. I would suggest—being one who works hard every day to minimize and disguise my own progressive illness symptoms—that Putin having Parkinson’s is a theory with good explanatory power and scope. What do you think?