PARIS: Baths in blood extracted from the antlers of Siberian deer. Excrements scooped up by loyal officials to evade analysis. Mysterious absences for emergency medical treatment.
The claims made about the health of Russian President Vladimir Putin, who will be 70 in October, are lurid and macabre, as well as impossible to verify. But they illustrate how little is known about the health of a leader whose medical condition is fundamental to the future of Europe, all the more so after he ordered Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Over the course of Putin’s two decades in power, remarkably little has emerged about his health, beyond the famous images provided by the Kremlin showing him bare-chested in a bid to project an image of macho strength. But scrutiny has now increased with the war that Putin unleashed against Russia’s neighbour.
What are the claims?
The most in-depth investigation into Putin’s health was published in April by the Russian-language news site Proekt, which used open-source data to conclude that the president’s trips to the southern resort city of Sochi were synchronised with those of a large number of doctors.
They included specialist in thyroid cancer Yevgeny Selivanov, whose visits to Sochi frequently coincided with Putin’s sudden absences from the public eye over the past years. It also alleged that one of the methods used by Putin to ensure longevity were baths in blood extracted from deer antlers in Siberia, a method recommended by his friend Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu, who is from Siberia.
French weekly Paris Match this month said that on visits to Saudi Arabia in 2019 and France in 2017, Putin was accompanied by a team whenever he went to the toilet, to keep his excretions so no foreign power could medically analyse his urine or stools.
Even more sensationally, US publication Newsweek said in June that Putin had undergone treatment for advanced cancer in April, citing American intelligence. The US National Security Council denied the existence of such briefings. Ukraine’s military intelligence chief, Major General Kyrylo Budanov, in a mid-May interview with Sky News claimed without evidence that Putin has cancer.
Proekt also alleged that the Kremlin set up a fake office in Sochi that purported to look like the one at his suburban Moscow residence to make it look like he was working in the Russian capital rather than resting at the Black Sea resort.
What information is there?
The only time the Kremlin confirmed Putin was suffering a health problem was the fall of 2012, when he cancelled several meetings and vanished from public life after being seen moving awkwardly.
The Kremlin at the time said he had pulled a muscle and one newspaper said he aggravated a back problem during a stunt when he flew with cranes on a motorised hang-glider. But Proekt alleges it was here that his major health problems began.
The Covid-19 pandemic has also seen sometimes odd conduct from the Russian leader.
The Kremlin said he had been vaccinated, but unlike almost all other world leaders, no images ever emerged of his jab. Those coming into close contact with him, including journalists, were subject to the most stringent precautions such as days of quarantine.
Published in Dawn, June 23rd, 2022