Again and again there are rumors surrounding Vladimir Putin’s state of health. But who would have what interest in spreading them?
The list is long. For many years there have been rumors about Vladimir Putin’s health. Since the outbreak of Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine, these rumors have multiplied significantly.
A long list of allegedly incurable diseases of Putin can be drawn from this. From leukemia, a brain tumor, thyroid cancer and Parkinson’s to the health consequences of an alleged assassination attempt on the Russian President in March of this year.
There is a lot of speculation about this on social media, but also in the tabloid media – especially in the British tabloids. There is no evidence for any of these reports. As always, all refer to “reliable sources”. Of course, Putin can be terminally ill.
But I would like to point out that Putin has been associated with deadly diseases again and again for at least 10 years. So far he seems to have survived everything. Unless you believe another rumor that Putin has long been dead and has since been represented by a double.
But who is interested in spreading such rumours? First of all, the media that spread them. Dramatic reports about the approaching death of a controversial person lead to a higher reading number. Clicks are essential for advertising-dependent media. For others it may be wishful thinking to see this “butcher” punished by death.
Gerhard Mangott is a professor of political science with a special focus on international relations and security in the post-Soviet space. He teaches at the Institute for Political Science in Innsbruck and is a lecturer at the Diplomatic Academy in Vienna
Much more relevant, however, is that such rumors are (could) also be spread by intelligence services. Above all, Western secret services – and of course the Ukrainian secret service SBU – are believed to be involved.
The intention behind it: rumors should be spread on social media, uncertainty and unrest should be triggered. While Putin is also a controversial figure in Russia, his opponents are in the minority. For the majority of the population, for various motives and reasons, Putin is the strong hand, the tsar who controls all the political threads in the country and holds Russia together.
Rumors about his imminent demise are intended to unsettle these sections of the population. Questions then arise as to what will happen to Russia after Putin. In the midst of a severe crisis, confidence in the future is said to be weakened. For the camp of Putin’s opponents, however, such rumors are small glimmers of hope that the tyrant will soon be gone and that Russia will be steering towards a new, better future.
But of course, these rumors spread by the secret services are not only intended to affect the Russian population. They are also intended to unsettle the political and economic elites. Russia has long been ruled by an elite cartel led and dominated by Putin. This reality, dubbed “Politburo 2.0” or “collective Putin” by Russian political scientists, means that Putin balances the numerous factions that are at odds with each other and unites them all together through state sinecures. These groups participate in the decisions of the Russian leadership.
At the same time, however, they depend on Putin’s favor for their influence and their material wealth. If the ruler were to suddenly die, fierce battles would ensue in this collective leadership over who should succeed Putin and who would retain or lose what benefits. Secret services therefore spread such rumors in order to spread unrest and uncertainty in the Russian leadership elite. Fracture lines in the leadership, succession fights should be fueled by it.
Finally, I must concede that Putin may indeed be terminally ill. He will surely die – the only question is when.