Russian President Vladimir Putin has cancelled his annual end-of-year press conference, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov announced Monday. The event’s cancellation—the first time Putin has called it off in 10 years—the expert believes that the leader may be suffering from ill health.
Peskov told reporters that the Kremlin hopes that Putin “will still find an opportunity” to speak with the press soon but no media event will take place before the New Year, Russian state-run news agency TASS reported.
A report in the British tabloid The Sun said the reasons for Putin scrapping the conference include a growing sense that Russia’s war in Ukraine is going poorly as well as Putin may be suffering from at least one undisclosed ailment. The rumors of Putin being in poor health have also spread on social media.
Though The Sun did not name a source making claims about Putin’s current health status, the paper’s story detailed several past rumors and said he “has repeatedly appeared unwell on camera.”
Rumors about Putin’s health have intensified since his late-February invasion of Ukraine. Some media outlets have cited videos of the Russian president appearing shaky or tense as evidence that he might have Parkinson’s disease, though some medical experts have disputed such talk.
In April, an investigative report from Proekt Media claimed Putin was accompanied by doctors—including a thyroid cancer surgeon—on trips from 2016 to 2019. The report also said Putin may have undergone surgery several years ago, but it did not directly say whether he was diagnosed with cancer or any other illness.
This summer, British investigative journalist John Sweeney wrote in his latest book, Killer in the Kremlin, that he had noticed substantial changes in Putin’s demeanor and physical appearance over the years that he’s covered the president.
Sweeney said that Putin looked “seriously ill” with puffy cheeks that make him resemble a hamster.
The journalist theorized steroids could be a culprit for the changes, writing that Putin may have started taking the medication years ago to treat a back injury sustained after falling off a horse. According to Sweeney, this could have led to a pattern of steroid abuse, which can cause many health problems such as major organ damage and tumors.
The Sun has also made past claims about Putin’s health. In 2020, the paper wrote that Putin may have both cancer and Parkinson’s disease, which the Kremlin dismissed at the time as “absolute nonsense.”
Valery Solovei, who allegedly used to be head of the public relations department at the Moscow State Institute of Internal Relations, was quoted by The Sun in the 2020 story as saying that he could not give a medical diagnosis on Putin but that Kremlin sources “at the epicenter of decision making” had told him of Putin’s alleged ailments.
Lawrence C. Reardon, an associate professor of political science at the University of New Hampshire, told Newsweek that it’s likely not just tabloids that are keeping watch on Putin’s health.
“No doubt the health divisions of the world’s intelligence agencies have been investigating similar tells and rumors,” Reardon said. “Perhaps early knowledge of any sickness was the reason why Putin staged several of his shirtless vacation episodes riding horses and handling weapons to prove that he was not only youthful, powerful, but also healthy.”
He added, “This was very strange behavior for any world leader and was the topic of ridicule by other G-7 leaders this past February. Perhaps their jocularity implied that they knew more about Putin’s health condition. All speculation, but such behavior was very strange for Putin and the world leaders.”
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