Russian President Vladimir Putin survived an assassination attempt last March and is undergoing treatment for advanced cancer, according to a confidential US intelligence report.
High-ranking US intelligence leaders shared the report with Newsweek and describe the Russian leader as increasingly isolated, paranoid and fearful, as his reported struggles with health issues and internal dissent within Russia grow.
After the failed assassination attempt against him in March, Putin disappeared from the public eye for a period in April – when he was reportedly treated for advanced-stage cancer, the report claims.
“Putin’s grip is strong but no longer absolute,” one of the senior intelligence officers involved with the reports explained. “The jockeying inside the Kremlin has never been more intense during his rule, everyone sensing that the end is near.”
Looming health questions
Putin has been the subject of speculation about his health since at least 2016, when independent Russian media outlet Proekt reported that Putin traveled with a team of 5-13 doctors at all times from 2016 to 2017, such as an ENT specialist, an infectious diseases specialist, and a neurosurgeon.
Putin also disappeared from the public eye for certain periods at a time, per Proekt, who said 12 specialists, including personal doctors, neurosurgeons, and a rehabilitation specialist, checked in at the Sochi hospital near his residence in November 2016.
The Russian President also disappeared from public view in mid-August 2017, when he met with oncologist-surgeon Evgeny Selivanov – a doctor Proekt claims has flown to Putin’s locations 35 times over the last four years.
“I don’t think that a sane person can suspect any signs of an illness or ailment in this man,” said Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on French TV last weekend, citing Putin’s recent public appearances.
An intelligence leader involved in the report expressed doubts with Lavrov’s assurances, explaining that Lavrov likely said this as a display of loyalty and adding that “Putin is definitely sick … whether he’s going to die soon is mere speculation.”
Paranoia and isolation
The COVID-19 pandemic brought with it signs of increased paranoia by Putin, who imposed strict isolation procedures — such as isolation for two weeks prior and requiring visitors to pass through a disinfectant tunnel – and has been pictured meeting with fellow world leaders at Putin’s now-infamously long table.
Russia has also seemingly increased its response to dissent against Putin: opposition news outlets have been censored, politicians and military leaders dismissed and arrested, and Putin has grown increasingly isolated as disapproval mounts – highlighted by the apparent assassination attempt, which Ukraine’s Chief of Defense Intelligence Kyrylo Budanov last week also said occurred.
“One source of our best intelligence, which is contact with outsiders, largely dried up as a result of the Ukraine war,” an official who read out the report said. “Putin has had few meetings with foreign leaders… (his) isolation has thus increased levels of speculation.”
Speculation increases amid war
The month of May brought an increase in speculation that Putin is suffering from health ailments. A Russian oligarch reportedly said Putin is suffering from blood cancer in an audio tape leaked to New Lines Magazine. Richard Dearlove, the former head of Britain’s MI6 spy agency, suggested Putin was ill on a recent podcast – a sentiment former MI6 Russia bureau chief Christopher Steele concurs with, per his interview with British talk radio station LBC.
As Ukraine’s defense chief and US intelligence officials bring forward their own reports of Putin’s condition, an issue the Kremlin finally addressed via Lavrov’s interview with French TV channel TF1 last week.
“I’ll leave it on the conscience of those who disseminate such rumors,” Lavrov declared.