There has been increasing speculation that some of Vladimir Putin’s decisions may be affected by some sort of illness or illnesses and treatments he may be receiving. This is an important factor when intelligence agencies evaluate a foreign leader’s actions and behaviors.
Even more so when that leader controls a country with a massive nuclear arsenal and is fighting a brutal, unexpected, and unjustified war in Europe.
If Putin is impaired due to one or more medical conditions, this could be critical to understanding his current moves and future reactions.
Some have noted that the Russian leader has appeared rather bloated around the face and neck recently, leading analysts to suggest he may be undergoing treatment with steroids.
The Telegraph reported that Fiona Hill, the British former senior White House expert on Russia, has noted that Putin is “not looking so great” at the moment. The Telegraph added:
Hill, who has met Mr Putin more than once, said: “He’s been rather puffy-faced. We know that he has complained about having back issues. Even if it’s not something worse than that, it could be that he’s taking high doses of steroids, or there may be something else.
Side effects of steroids include increased risk of infection, hence is paranoia about social distancing and the absurdly long tables he has used at meetings and could explain the coughing fit he suffered during a televised meeting with his finance minister in November 2020.
More significantly though, steroid use can produce “mood and behavioral changes.”
There may be more, notes The Telegraph. In November 2020, Professor Valery Solovei, of the Moscow State Institute of International Relations, was quoted as suggesting Putin may have Parkinson’s disease and cancer. The professor was later forced from his position at the university under political pressure.
But it’s not just analysts and former officials who are concerned about Putin’s potential health impact on his thinking.
Republican Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, who is a senior member of the Senate Intelligence Committee and has access to classified intelligence, added to this speculation when he said in mid-March: “I wish I could share more, but for now, I can say it’s pretty obvious to many that something is off with Putin.
“He has always been a killer, but his problem now is different and significant.”
Senator Rubio later added more specifically that Putin “appears to have some neuro/physiological health issues.”
There are also those who suggest that if the U.S. government does have intelligence that Vlad the Invader Putin is sick, it should release it.
One former White House national security official told the Telegraph the U.S. should “make it personal” and release anything it had on Putin, as it has done with other Ukraine-related intelligence.
Meanwhile the illness theory could also explain Putin’s sudden imperative to recover lost Russian lands, and as the Telegraph notes, “why he would take such a gamble on capturing the whole of Ukraine, a country of 44 million people, in one go with a force military experts say was not enough.”
Previously Putin had taken a longer view of these goals, using incremental land grabs, such as the Crimea in 2014 or his limited invasion of Georgia in 2008 in support of the self-proclaimed republics of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.
These could be considered what President Biden infamously called “minor incursions” that would only meet with a limited Western response.
And many observers, including myself, believed he would continue that approach in Ukraine this year, taking only some pieces of Ukraine in the east and south.
However, the serious illness theory could be pointing to an autocratic Russian leader who believes he is running out of time and needs to achieve his ambitious goals of a ‘Greater Russia’ sooner rather than later. This could be extremely dangerous and could make make dealing with him far more of a gamble. ADN