Russian President Vladimir Putin could be dealing with a cancer diagnosis, while his country's ongoing war with Ukraine approaches its third full month.
New Lines Magazine has apparently obtained an audio recording of an oligarch close to the Kremlin describing Putin as "very ill with blood cancer," without delving into further specifics.
The oligarch's claim, or the audio recording itself, have yet to be independently verified. However, it does provide a sliver of insight into Putin's well-being, from an individual who seemingly possesses close ties to the Russian government.
How did New Lines acquire the audio, which was apparently captured without the oligarch's knowledge?
A Western venture capitalist reportedly taped the conversation in mid-March. The source provided the recording to New Lines on the condition of complete anonymity.
The source also acknowledged he had "betrayed a colleague's trust out of disgust" with the Russians' war in Ukraine.
"[Putin] absolutely ruined Russia's economy, Ukraine's economy and many other economies — ruined [them] absolutely," the oligarch apparently says in the recording. "The problem is with [Putin's] head. ... One crazy guy can turn the world upside down."
New Lines says it could easily authenticate the oligarch's identity and voice, but still opted to keep the individual's name private.
The likely rationale?
Oligarchs in particular have much to lose, given that their ability to earn and spend their hundreds of millions or billions is inextricably tied to their fealty to the Kremlin.
Roman Abramovich, erstwhile owner of the Chelsea Football Club in London, may have been poisoned while trying to help Ukraine negotiate a peace deal.
"In all, eight oligarchs, many involved in Russia's lucrative energy sector, have turned up dead since January; two under eerily similar circumstances as geographically distant as Catalonia and Moscow, alongside their wives and children, whom they were thought to have murdered before committing suicide," the New Lines article states.
Since Feb. 24, the onset of Russia's full-scale invasion of neighboring Ukraine, there has been rampant speculation involving the health of the 69-year-old Putin, who has held the presidential post since May 2000.
Sometimes, Putin looks strong when speaking in public. At other times, namely last Monday's Victory Day celebration in Moscow — commemorating the Soviet Union's World War II victory over Nazi German in 1945 — Putin was more reserved than usual, while apparently sporting a walking limp.
Citing the New Lines piece, Boris Karpichkov, a KGB defector to Britain (and formerly an officer of the Second Chief Directorate, specializing in counterintelligence) believes Putin may be suffering from Parkinson's disease, and possibly dementia.
"[Putin] is — or at least acts — insane and obsessed by paranoia ideas," Karpichkov told Rupert Murdoch's Sun newspaper, situationally comparing Putin to former Soviet Union premier Joseph Stalin, who was the victim of at least one stroke.
Also, a Telegram channel called General SVR and purportedly "helmed by a former officer from Russia's Foreign Intelligence Service," reports that Putin will soon undergo cancer surgery.
During this process, Nikolai Patrushev, the secretary of Russia's National Security Council, would temporarily take over in Putin's stead.
As the New Lines article chronicles, Patrushev is "one of the most hawkish ideologues of [Putin's] regime."
Dmitry Peskov, the Kremlin's press secretary, recently brushed off the Putin rumors, characterizing the Russian president's health as "excellent."
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