Bloated and stumpy, Russian wartime President Vladimir Putin (69) is becoming more and more reminiscent of old Kremlin leaders in their final days. Leonid Brezhnev (1906-1982) suffered a stroke in 1976 from which he never recovered. A sick man ruled the Soviet Union and led the huge empire into the 1979 war in Afghanistan. Boris Yeltsin (1931-2007), Russia’s first president, also seemed a shadow of himself towards the end.
Brezhnev’s invasion of Afghanistan would later contribute to the fall of the Soviet empire. Yeltsin could not withstand the pressure in power. Marked by palace revolts and intrigues, on the last day of the last millennium Yeltsin handed power to his successor: the then 47-year-old prime minister and rising star Vladimir Putin.
Even by Soviet and Russian standards, Putin is an exception. He has dominated Russian politics for more than two decades. But the years in power and now the war in Ukraine scare him. Putin looks sick. In a recent video, he manically twitched and tapped his feet. And he’s more paranoid than ever.
Rumors had been circulating for years that Putin was suffering from cancer or Parkinson’s disease. The few pictures that still exist of the war president show a man with a bloated face and an unsteady gait who seems to freeze again and again. Putin is heavily medicated. And parallels to Afghanistan emerge: Putin’s war is reminiscent of the Soviet failure in Afghanistan. Moscow seems to have underestimated its opponent just as much this time as it did then.
The Kremlin had banked on a quick invasion of Kyiv. Little goes according to plan. For a war regent, General Putin now seems battered and not clear-headed. Hasn’t he been healthy for a long time? US film director Oliver Stone (75) has long wanted to know that Putin was suffering from cancer. Stone gained unprecedented access to Putin for a series of interviews in 2015-2017. Hardly any outsider came as close to Putin as Stone. “Don’t forget,” Stone said on a podcast this week, “Putin had this cancer and I think he beat it. But he’s also been isolated because of Covid,” Stone said.
A former British agent has no doubt that Putin is seriously ill (Blick reported). Christopher Steele (57) headed the Russia department of the British secret service for three years. Speaking to Britain’s LBC, Steele said Putin was “constantly surrounded by a team of doctors.”
The tyrant isolates himself
Putin hasn’t met any ministers, advisors or confidants for months. Video conferences are interrupted again and again and Putin has to be dealt with again and again. However, the “exact details” of the Russian president’s health are not known, according to Steele, not even to his closest confidants.
The British secret agent has no doubt that the war leader is definitely ill. “It is clear that he is seriously ill – to what extent incurable is unclear, we cannot be entirely sure.”
Apparently, the course of the war in Ukraine and his state of health are making Putin more and more paranoid. The information cannot be verified, but according to various sources almost 30,000 Russian soldiers have already been killed. More than double the 12,000 Soviet soldiers who died in Afghanistan in nine years. Fewer and fewer Russians are now in favor of Putin’s war. So the president is obsessed with people trying to kill him. Which is why he’s completely isolating himself.
Tasters test the food
According to consistent media reports, Putin is currently not staying in the Kremlin, but in the bunker of one of his secret summer residences. He even distances himself from former confidants. Fearful of being poisoned, food tasters taste the food before he eats it.
There are rumors that the former KGB spy even wears special gloves to protect his skin from potentially deadly substances. Even with the daily morning bath, Putin no longer feels safe. He has the water checked for suspicious chemicals several times a day, reports The Sun.
Observers speak of Putin’s descent into Hitler-like madness, with parallels between the two tyrants. The British historian and Putin biographer Mark Galeotti (57) compares Hitler’s and Putin’s arrogant insistence on big plans, despite numerous mistakes during the war.
“It is impossible not to be reminded of Adolf Hitler’s last days, when a war he started was also against him,” Galeotti writes in the Daily Mail. «Of course, Putin’s enemies are not at the gates of Moscow like Hitler’s enemies are in Berlin. But there are parallels in both leaders’ refusal to listen to advice and their insistence on controlling military maneuvers down to the last detail despite lacking the experience to do so.”
Putin is more of a “military fanboy than a military mastermind”. Like Hitler, he has no idea of the reality of war. And on October 7, Putin would be 70. Age, rumors about his declining health and the devastating war situation are apparently also causing Russian generals to view their president as incompetent and humiliating.
Putin expert Galeotti: “What is striking now is how isolated Putin seems to be. There aren’t many people around him who I think would take a bullet for President. When and however Putin finally leaves, no one will cry for him.”
Polish publicist and historian Adam Michnik (75) is convinced that his war has put Putin in the Afghanistan trap. “I am sure that Ukraine will become for Putin what Afghanistan was for Brezhnev,” Michnik told Radio Free Europe.
In Russia there was always change after wars were lost. That was the case after Afghanistan and will also be the case after Ukraine. Michnik is sure that Russia’s shame in Ukraine will pave the way for democratic change: “Russia made a bad choice”, but “a new wave will come”.
Afghanistan hastened the collapse of the Soviet Union. Michnik harbors hope that a Russian defeat in Ukraine will be the spark that will ignite democratic change in Russia. (kes)