Putins hand-gliding stunt once sparked health fears as leader cancelled engagements

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In recent months critics have speculated over Putin’s physical and mental state due to the Russian leader’s brutal invasion of Ukraine.  In March, Nancy Pelosi, US Speaker of the house, said: “Some people say he has cancer, and some people say brain fog from COVID. “Other people just think he’s a complete raging bully. But whatever it is, the people of Ukraine are paying for it.”

Days later, the former MI6 head Sir Richard Dearlove said Putin may have Parkinson’s disease and his behaviour may be compromised by the illness. 

Amid an array of rumours the Kremlin responded by stressing that Putin’s mental state is “normal”.

Speculation around the Russian leader’s health has been a recurring topic for the past decade. 

Putin, has long attempted to curate a strongman image since taking office in 1999, often pictured swimming in freezing Siberian waters, shooting tigers, riding horses and even having boasted that he eats raw eggs for breakfast.

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However, in 2012, his strongman persona was thrown into jeopardy after reports began to circulate that Putin was suffering from serious health problems. 

That year, the Russian President sported a visible limp while attending the Asian-Pacific Economic Cooperation Forum in Vladivostok, prompting a series of health claims.

The flurry of speculation continued after several scheduled domestic and international engagements from September to December were postponed.

News of Putin’s health was first revealed by Reuters, who claimed he was suffering from back trouble which might require surgery. 

Then the business daily publication Vedomosti reported that a long-running health issue was likely to have been exacerbated by a motorised hang-gliding stunt. 

Putin had taken to the Siberian skies to lead a flock of rare cranes on the first leg of their migration, according to the publication.

Then speculation mounted after the leader rescheduled a summit for the heads of former Soviet states to December, and then failed to attend planned October meetings in Pakistan and Turkey. 

Domestic engagements were also affected, with Putin’s press secretary Dmitry Peskov confirming that the Russian leader would not hold his live televised question and answer session in December. 

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Mr Peskov stressed the marathon event, which can last up to four hours, would be postponed until the spring when “people’s feet and ears won’t freeze.”

The spokesperson responded to the health rumours claiming: “Any sportsman has a lot of injuries. 

“Especially if he plays sports actively and every day, like Putin”.

Mr Peskov also denied that Putin’s aerial acrobatics had done the President any harm, but confirmed that the leader had pulled a muscle while undergoing an unknown activity. 

The spokesperson added: “But that is not imposing any restrictions on his activities.”

During the Soviet Union era there was an imposed ban on discussing the wellbeing of politicians. 

In turn, in the early Eighties officials surrounding the dying Leonid Brezhnev repeatedly denied that the long-serving leader was ill.

And when Joseph Stalin fell ill it took an entire day before the leader’s entourage accepted that he may in fact be dying rather than sleeping.

When they eventually called the Ministry of Health and doctors finally arrived, Stalin was unresponsive, with his right arm and leg paralysed, and his blood pressure at an alarmingly high rate.

Putin has always maintained that he is in good health, but as he enters his advancing years, the issue is likely to be a difficult phenomenon to hide, according to Aleksei Venediktov, a prominent Russian journalist. 

Speaking to the Guardian, Mr Venediktov saidin 2012: “Of course he will try to preserve the image of an absolutely healthy and eternally young person.”

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