Russia: Putin unveils new Belarus deal to strengthen alliance
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Questions over Putin’s physical and psychological condition have circulated since the Russian leader launched his illegal invasion of Ukraine on February 24. Senior global figueres, including US Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, have entertained the prospect that the Russian leader’s decision-making may be affected by an alleged “cancer”, or “brain fog” from coronavirus. Former MI6 head Sir Richard Dearlove also suggested in March that Putin may have Parkinson’s disease, with his behaviour compromised by the illness.
Critics claiming Putin is suffering from ill health have pointed to the President’s puffy-faced appearance to suggest that the President may be undergoing treatment with steroids.
They have also noted that in a recent state visit of foreign leaders, Putin was pictured sitting across from his guests on a comically long table, due to alleged fear of infection.
During French President Emmanuel Macron’s visit, shortly before the Ukraine invasion, the pair were sat 13ft apart.
Despite growing speculation surrounding Putin’s physical and psychological well-being, the Kremlin has insisted that Putin’s mental state is “normal”.
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However, speculation surrounding the President’s health has been a recurring theme for the past decade.
In 2018, during appearances at the “Leaders of Russia” talent competition and at a campaign visit in Siberia, Putin appeared visibly ill.
When he subsequently cancelled a series of public appearances, speculation surrounding the leader’s long-term durability began to mount.
Writing in the Independent at the time, Moscow correspondent Oliver Carroll said: “During his last public appearance, at the culmination of the Kremlin’s ‘Leader’s of Russia’ talent competition, the President showed obvious signs of illness.
“His voice was weak and crackly and he coughed throughout.
“[There was] a similar picture when [we] accompanied Mr Putin on a campaign visit in Siberia last week.
“The President struggled with public speeches, made mistakes and seemed unfocused.”
The following Monday, Putin cancelled a visit to Sochi, and the next day pulled out of a meeting on microelectronics in the Kremlin.
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The President also failed to attend the ‘Mentor 2018’ forum in Moscow, and scrapped a visit to the Russian far east.
It was the first time in years Putin had cancelled several public appearances due to illness.
The President’s press secretary Dmitry Peskov played down the suggestion of serious health problems, however.
He insisted that Putin would continue to work from the Kremlin or his suburban residence in Novo-Ogaryovo.
Mr Peskov said: “There is still a working schedule, but it will take into account the President’s cold ‒ you all heard his voice.
“It’s winter, you understand yourselves.”
The prevailing questions surrounding Putin’s health continue to exist despite the President’s carefully curated strongman persona.
Since first taking over from Boris Yeltsin as President in 1999, Putin has built physical prowess into his brand.
He’s been photographed swimming in icy Siberian waters, competing in Judo matches and riding a horse bare-chested through Russia’s countryside.
However, as he enters his advancing years, this strongman image will likely be difficult to keep up, according to Aleksei Venediktov, a prominent Russian journalist.
Speaking to the Guardian in 2012, Mr Venediktov added however: “Of course he will try to preserve the image of an absolutely healthy and eternally young person”.
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