Even inside Russia’s cult of strictly controlled information certain ominous signs are difficult or even impossible to hide. For instance, official celebrations on Victory Day, a significant annual event for the Russian identity, almost as important as America’s Fourth of July, have been cancelled. Festivities had been scheduled for the ninth of May.
Other celebrations could be abandoned or at least postponed. The reason? Such things require marching troops, and Russia has damned few of those. What troops remain are needed in Ukraine just now. There are simply none to spare.
Then there’s the question of Putin’s health. I realise that much negative speculation is in part the result of wishful thinking. Remember that Trump was supposed to be dying of a thousand maladies during his scandal-blighted presidency. Even so, there are many outwardly unmistakable signs that Vladimir Putin is in bad shape, and rumours suggest that he may even be about to undergo chemotherapy, if he hasn’t started already.
These rumours come in part from documents leaked by former Massachusetts Air National Guardsman Jack Teixeira, and they further suggest that Russian National Security Council Secretary Nikolay Patrushev and Russian Chief of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov plan to sabotage the war in Ukraine while Putin undergoes chemo. If there’s even a shred of truth to this rumour those men could already be dead, and it points to the extreme seriousness of Mr. Teixeira’s betrayal. You can bet that every detail of Teixeira’s leaks have got back to Putin.
Putin has long portrayed himself as a vigorous strongman bristling with good health. But for several years now images have emerged suggesting a very different story. In recent video footage, for example, Putin appears to struggle with movement and clings to the side of a podium for stability. His hands frequently tremble. He taps his foot repeatedly and nervously. His face appears puffy and bloated and he suffers from frequent fits of coughing.
To be sure, these could be nothing more than ordinary symptoms of the strain of dealing with a losing war in Ukraine. Putin’s unprovoked invasion of that sovereign nation has been a disaster almost from day one, and the calamity almost certainly has taken its toll on the Russian despot’s health, as it would with anyone.
But rumours are sometimes true, and the rumours that Putin may be suffering from cancer have persisted for some time now. Whatever the case, the undeniable fact remains that, as conditions worsen in Russia and privations increase because of the war, Putin is becoming increasingly unpopular with his own people.
It could be nothing more than the fallacy of sunk costs that keeps Putin from abandoning this remarkably stupid and destructive war. The prospects of eventual victory decrease with each passing day, and any victory — if it ever comes— will be inevitably Pyrrhic.
But it could also be true that Putin is dying. A dying Putin could be the most dangerous Putin of all. Let’s hope that if death comes for Vladimir, it comes soon, unexpectedly and swiftly. And, as ever, ladies and gentlemen, brothers and sisters, comrades and friends, stay safe.
Robert Harrington is an American expat living in Britain. He is a portrait painter.