NEW YORK: Russian President Vladimir Putin is fighting cancer and receiving aggressive treatment as he periodically stops making public appearances and has also possibly survived an assassination attempt, US intelligence experts have opined. But the Kremlin has stoutly denied such reports.
The US intelligence community believes that Putin is suffering and he's being treated for cancer, according to an assessment by the Newsweek.
Attributed by the weekly to high-ranking officials at three separate intelligence agencies, comes after months of speculation that the Russian strongman is suffering from terminal ailments.
"Putin is definitely sick," an official from the office of the Director of National Intelligence told the outlet, while noting, whether he's going to die soon is "mere speculation".
Two other officials, one from the Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA) and a retired Air Force officer, also claimed to have access to a comprehensive intelligence assessment of Putin's health, and said the outlook for the Russian leader is bleak, according to the report.
The assessment supports the theory that Putin was missing from the world stage for much of April because he was undergoing treatment for advanced cancer, the report said.
"Is Putin sick? Absolutely," the retired Air Force officer said. "But we shouldn't let waiting for his death drive proactive actions on our part. A power vacuum after Putin could be very dangerous for the world."
The intelligence community also reportedly believes that Putin is increasingly paranoid about his hold on powerand that he may have survived an assassination attempt in March. "Putin's grip is strong but no longer absolute," one of the senior intelligence officers said. "The jockeying inside the Kremlin has never been more intense during his rule, everyone sensing that the end is near."
The officials also warned that as Putin has become increasingly isolated, access to credible intelligence has become more difficult to obtain. "One source of our best intelligence, which is contact with outsiders, largely dried up as a result of the Ukraine war," the senior DIA official said, noting that as Putin has fewer meetings with foreign leaders, there are fewer opportunities to learn about his condition.
Meanwhile, CIA Director Bill Burns made a tongue in cheek remark giving an unusually candid assessment this week, when he told attendees at the Aspen Institute's annual security confab that Putin is "entirely too healthy".
Burns was careful to qualify apparently tongue-in-cheek remarks, saying they didn't constitute "a formal intelligence judgment." But asked directly if Putin was unhealthy or unstable, he said: "There are lots of rumours about President Putin's health and as far as we can tell, he's entirely too healthy."
So what are we to make of speculation about Putin's health? His body language, speech and gait have all been relentlessly scrutinized. And every time Putin disappears from public view for a few days -- or even makes a slight misstep, such as he did recently after touching down in Tehran -- it can set off a round of intense, tabloid-style speculation about his physical wellbeing, the New York Post said. So without a clear successor to Putin, Russia is always a few sneezes away from a full-blown political crisis.
The Kremlin routinely ridicules any speculation about Putin's health. Last week, spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Putin felt "fine" and in "good health" before describing speculation to the contrary as "nothing but hoaxes".
"We need to be mindful of the influence of wishful thinking," the retired Air Force leader said. Still, the sources said that following a televised appearance in April, in which the Russian leader was seen awkwardly gripping a table while meeting with his Defence Minister, the intelligence community told the White House that Putin was ill and most likely dying.
Rumours of Putin's imminent demise have been reported since the early days of his invasion of Ukraine.
In early April, Russian investigative journalism outlet The Project reported that Putin was quite ill and had been receiving regular visits from a noted Russian oncologist.
The US intelligence strongly believes that Putin is very sick and is skipping public appearances despite denials from the Kremlin.
That account was followed by multiple reports, some from Telegram channels supposedly aligned with Kremlin dissidents, that the former KGB man was due to undergo various surgeries or was looking for a potential successor, the New York Post said adding, the DIA official has warned against underestimating the Russian President.
"He's still dangerous, and chaos does lie ahead if he does die. We need to focus on that. Be ready," he said.