Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Several conspiracy theories have cropped up about how Russian President Vladimir Putin is getting increasingly paranoid as the war between Russia and Ukraine drags on.
Some reports claim he uses body doubles, some claim he has been sick for a while; and some others claim that he has been living on an isolated property with his alleged lover. In the latest public display of paranoia, Putin stood around 60 feet away from diplomats while delivering a speech inside the Alexander Hall of the Kremlin Palace.
The event was held to announce new Russian ambassadors to the United States and the European Union. Putin later clarified that he had to resort to such a measure due to Covid-19 restrictions.
Putin met new ambassadors from 17 countries in Kremlin yesterday. Note the distance – as paranoid as in historical anecdotes about paranoid dictators… pic.twitter.com/IuhTj2C08V
— Konstantin Sonin (@k_sonin) April 6, 2023
This is not the first time that Putin’s actions have come into question. There were persistent rumours and speculations about the Russian president’s deteriorating health and unstable mental state long he gave the order to invade Ukraine on February 24, 2022. The rumours have only become worse in the year since, due to the impact of the war.
A former officer with President Vladimir Putin’s elite security unit who last year defected also called the Russian leader a paranoid “war criminal.”
According to a report by NBC News, Gleb Karakulov served as a captain in the Federal Protection Service (FSO), an organisation assigned the task of protecting Russia’s highest-ranking officials.
Last year, Putin was seen sitting at the other end of a 13-foot table during a meeting with his French counterpart, Emmanuel Macron, which led people to make speculations about his health. There have also been rumours regarding a Kremlin plot that aimed to remove Putin or find a replacement amid his military’s failures in Ukraine.
Recent reports have claimed that he may be using a body double during various trips.
The latest controversy came against the backdrop of Putin’s visit to occupied Mariupol in Ukraine. Putin made a surprise visit to the war-ravaged city of Mariupol last week to mark the ninth anniversary of Russia’s annexation of the peninsula.
Several claims were made on Russian social media platforms, questioning whether it was Putin or his body double. A clip from Putin’s visit to Ukraine also made it to Twitter, with users going wild with their theories and suggestions.
“Who is ruling Russia?” Video goes viral in Russia claiming Putin is using body doubles,” read the caption posted with the video. Others also joined in the comment section. “Wonder if #Trump will follow this double example? Are there lookalikes out there?” asked one user.
A former KGB spy, Sergey Zhirnov, who attended the same university as Russian President Vladimir Putin, has also made similar claims about his batchmate. He said that body doubles are being used at important events.
The claims came after another video of Putin started making the rounds on social media platforms earlier in March. The video showed a very excited Russian leader visiting a helicopter factory in Siberia. He is seen in the video making impassioned gestures and constantly rubbing his nose, which are not normal mannerism by the leader.
Zhirnov made a comparison between the formal address Putin gave on February 21 compared to the next day’s engagement at a pro-war concert in Moscow. He appeared “thin” and was coughing during the event.
In this case, “a totally different Putin pops up” with “a wider face as if he bloated in 24 hours,” he told Ukrainian TV. “He has a totally different shape of eye orbits, a totally different head, absolutely different wrinkles, – a different voice,” Zhirnov added.
Far from avoiding contact with others, which he usually does to stay away from COVID-19, he was “nearly kissing and hugging everyone,” he said. Zhirnov is a former classmate of Putin at the KGB Red Flag Academy and is currently exiled in France.
A number of reports have also claimed that the Russian leader has not been keeping well. In some footage released in recent times, he appears to be struggling with motor control and is seen to have trouble controlling his movements.
He has been seen clinging to the side of a desk, restlessly shifting his weight while being seated, and tapping his feet uncontrollably while speaking to officials. Such signs may be indicators of potential ill health that have coincided with Putin’s choice to cancel multiple public appearances and scheduled engagements. However, all the reports about his health are unverified.