From US Senator Marco Rubio to university political science professors and UK tabloids, many people seem to have a keen understanding of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s health. But one important voice has been missing in the flurry of articles and speeches speculating that Putin, who is leading Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, has Parkinson’s or thyroid cancer: medical experts. (Also read: Is Vladimir Putin Fighting 2 Life-threatening Diseases? The leaked document says…)
Earlier this year, a conversation from years ago was rekindled when Putin was shown gripping a table during a 12-minute video clip of a meeting with Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu. He stamped his foot and hunched over the clip, which was released by the Russian government. His face was noticeably swollen.
The video prompted some online commentators, including former UK Conservative Party MP Louise Mensch, to jump to the conclusion on Twitter that the Russian president has Parkinson’s disease.
The claim has also been reported by several UK tabloids. The stories included comments from a strategic communications professor, a couple of political analysts, and a body language professor. But there are no doctors.
There is no diagnosis without tests
It’s probably not a coincidence.
“Real neurologists are unlikely to comment because they are taught never to comment on people who are not their patients,” John Hardy, a neurogeneticist at the UK Dementia Research Institute, told DW.
Emphasizing the fact that he is a neurogeneticist, not a neurologist, Hardy shared his take on Putin’s status as someone who has studied brain diseases.
“No signs of parkinsonism in my opinion,” he said. “He didn’t look good… but he didn’t have Parkinson’s disease.”
Ray Chadhuri, a neurologist at the University of London, agreed.
“Looking at the short clip, I can’t find any evidence that you can talk about Parkinsonism in Putin,” Chadhuri told DW.
Parkinson’s disease and parkinsonism are incredibly difficult to diagnose and can only be determined through a complete in-person neurological exam, Chadhuri explained.
“swelling of [the] The face or tremors can be caused by many reasons and I didn’t see any tremors either,” Chadhuri said.
Caroline Rassell, CEO of Parkinson’s UK, echoed Hardy when asked for her expert opinion on the clips. She said that Parkinson’s is a complex condition with more than 40 symptoms ranging from physical to mental and therefore impossible to diagnose through a 12-minute video clip.
“It affects everyone differently,” Rassell said. “Without a definitive diagnostic test, it is something that can only be confirmed after examination by a neurologist or specialist. The media and online speculation are not helping.”
A tight-lipped Russia makes speculation inevitable
It is not uncommon for people to speculate about the health conditions of the world’s most powerful leaders. The media extensively covered former US President Donald Trump testing positive for COVID in 2020, former German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s tremor episodes in 2019, and Pope Francis’ colon surgery last summer.
For years, the Kremlin has kept quiet about Putin’s health, prompting journalists and political scientists to scrutinize the president’s every move in an attempt to spot any signs of frailty or illness. Rumors that Putin has thyroid cancer, serious back problems and even psychosis have become part of the usual discourse surrounding the president.
This was exacerbated during the COVID-19 pandemic, when Putin went into complete isolation, refusing to approach other world leaders at global summits and conferences, and requiring those he met to self-isolate and get tested multiple times beforehand. to see.
The Putin-led Russian invasion of Ukraine in February saw media outlets and analysts speculate that with Putin isolated and most of the intelligence coming from a select few people who may or may not have told the whole truth, the president may have plunged into a state of narcissistic psychosis.
Journalists seemed to seize on this idea as a way to explain Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, which has left at least 1,800 Ukrainians dead and thousands wounded.
Whether Putin is on his deathbed and using this war as a way to cement his mark on history, or whether he is actually being guided by a kind of psychosis, without any input from the Kremlin, is all speculation.
And at the end of the day, no one – not Twitter commentators, not neurologists watching videos released by the Kremlin, not so-called Russia experts – know what is going on in Putin’s brain.
Edited by: Louisa Wright