Western media is again spreading rumors about a sudden deterioration in the health of Russian President Vladimir Putin, and even his possible death. The source of these rumors is an anonymous Telegram channel allegedly linked to Valery Solovey, a notorious conspiracy theorist.
The Kremlin regularly dismisses such statements as false and the president appears to be in good shape. Moreover, no one can find any proof that Putin's health is in danger. Meanwhile, as the scandalous "insider information" continues to spread, its sources fail to become any more credible.
So how did a Russian hoaxer and conspiracy theorist become a source of "sensational world news?"
On Friday, The Daily Mail published an article with the scandalous title:
"Vladimir Putin is NOT dead: Kremlin issues extraordinary denial to 'lies' that Russian tyrant, 71, 'died at his luxury Valdai forest palace' - amid claims a 'coup' was underway in Moscow."The Daily Mail referred to an anonymous Telegram channel that had spread information about the death of the Russian president the day before, and said that Kremlin Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov "told state media RIA Novosti that the report was an 'absurd information canard [yarn]'."
In fact, Peskov did not comment on these rumors and there is no such story on the RIA Novosti website. Just like the "news" of Vladimir Putin's death, Peskov's "comment" was distributed through anonymous Telegram channels. However, for the Western media, this piece of fake news provided a reason to publish unconfirmed nonsense.
All of the above is hardly surprising, since that same week, British media spread rumors that Vladimir Putin's health had significantly deteriorated. The Mirror was the first publication to claim last weekend that the Russian president had suffered cardiac arrest and had to be resuscitated. This story also appeared in other publications such as the Daily Express,Sky News Australia, and others.
Similar stories appeared in the Western press one after another. This eventually forced the Russian president's press secretary to indeed comment. On Tuesday, Peskov said that the rumors about Putin's health problems were groundless. "He is fine, this is absolutely another false yarn," he said.
The official refutation, however, has not altered the Western media's editorial policy. Making the same mistake, journalists continue to quote a channel which has repeatedly demonstrated that its "insider information" is completely unfounded.
Rumors from "General SVR"
The source regularly cited by Western media is the General SVR Telegram account (SVR is Russian acronym for Foreign Intelligence Service — RT). It was created in the fall of 2020 and immediately started posting about Putin's alleged poor health.
On Thursday evening, it posted the following message:
"Russian President Vladimir Putin died tonight at his Valdai residence. At 20:42 Moscow time, doctors stopped resuscitation attempts and pronounced him dead. Now doctors are locked in the room with Putin's corpse, they are being held by the President's security service <...> Security measures [to protect] the President's body double have been strengthened. Active negotiations are underway. Any attempt to pass off the double as the President after Putin's death will [lead to] a coup."On Monday, General SVR wrote that on the evening of October 22, Putin's security service officers who were on duty at his residence heard a noise and the sound of a fall coming from his bedroom. When they arrived, they allegedly saw Putin lying on the floor near the bed, and next to him there was an overturned table with food and drinks.
"Doctors performed resuscitation, having preliminarily diagnosed cardiac arrest. Help was provided on time, the [doctors] restarted his heart and Putin regained consciousness. <...> This case of cardiac arrest seriously alarmed the president's inner circle, despite the fact that the attending doctors have warned that Putin is doing very badly and is unlikely to survive until the end of the fall."General SVR regularly claims that the Kremlin has hired body doubles to represent him in public. The channel's administrator claims that he has "connections" in law enforcement agencies.
Referring to Monday's post, The Mirror indicated that the channel was allegedly created by a former Kremlin lieutenant general, known under the pseudonym Viktor Mikhailovich. At the same time, the newspaper admits that it has never provided any evidence that would confirm the existence of its sources, and the channel's latest posts are unverified.
This Telegram channel is also popular among some Russians, especially among the supporters of the opposition. The mysterious "General SVR" was even invited as a guest by popular YouTube channels like Feygin Live and the Echo of Moscow. In the videos, the voice of the man who introduced himself as Viktor Mikhailovich was altered. The publicity, however, played a cruel joke on the channel's creator - a WebMoney wallet revealed the real identity of the person who communicated with the interviewers.
He turned out to be Viktor Ermolaev - a member of the register of lawyers of Ukraine, who is originally from Kharkov. Russian RT sources in law enforcement agencies have also confirmed this information.
The Grey Cardinal
For a long time, the biggest popularizer of the General SVR channel was former MGIMO (Moscow State Institute of International Relations) professor Solovey, who made frequent references to the channel's publications. The academic, who was particularly fond of spreading hoaxes and shocking information, also made predictions about the radical changes that were supposedly about to happen in Russia - such as the early departure of Vladimir Putin from the post of president and mass national protests.
The favored topic for both the General SVR and Solovey, however, is the health of the Russian president. In fact, the "insider information" revealed by Solovey and the General SVR Channel is so similar, that the eccentric professor is suspected of being the channel's administrator. Solovey himself has denied having any ties to the channel and claimed that its administrator was only an acquaintance of his.
"There are forces and people whose influence exceeds any power. In particular, they are stronger than the FSB [Federal Security Service of Russia], stronger than the Foreign Intelligence Service, stronger than the Directorate of the General Staff. These are international non-governmental organizations, let's call them that. There are several such organizations in the world. I am an associate member of the Eastern European branch of one of these organizations."He stated that the organization has nothing to do with Freemasons or Knights Templar and that it is "not an occult organization." Solovey also said:
"Being a member of this community allows me to be integrated into fairly wide circles of the establishment, not only in Russia, but also in the European and North American parts of the Ecumene."Although Solovey's image is even more exotic than that of the anonymous Telegram channel, Western media outlets often quote him. For example, shortly before the Russian leader's 70th birthday last year, Solovey made a "sensational statement" which was then quoted by the Daily Mail.
Solovey claimed that Putin intends to take the whole world along with him when he dies, and has supposedly already decided to use tactical nuclear weapons in Ukraine. He stated that the current situation is more dangerous and closer to a "nuclear apocalypse" than the Cuban missile crisis during the Cold War. The publication also claimed that Russian Orthodox churches were ordered to hold special prayer services for the president's health.
The Mirror also refers to Solovey's claims about the consistently "deteriorating health" of the Russian leader. The publication notes that, like General SVR, Solovey says that Putin suffers from serious diseases including cancer, Parkinson's disease, and schizoaffective disorder.
In March, based on Solovey's claims, The Mirror wrote that Putin had lost a lot of weight and nurses were using cotton padding to conceal this from the public.
The article was complemented by recent photos of Putin. In the images he looks quite healthy. In one, the president is shown during a meeting with Chinese leader Xi Jinping - the two leaders shake hands and Putin smiles.
In addition to these sources, the Mirror had previously cited former head of MI6 [the UK Secret Intelligence Service] Richard Dearlove, who in September of last year claimed that the Russian leader would resign from his post by 2023 due to health problems.
The Hill also referred to Solovey's predictions, saying that Putin is terminally ill and will not make it past the fall of this year.
Rumors about body doubles
Along with rumors about the Russian president's supposedly rapidly deteriorating health, another popular story is that the Kremlin often turns to Putin's body doubles for various reasons.
The idea that Putin has several of these - who allegedly substituted for him during recent public appearances and some meetings with foreign leaders - is spread by Solovey, who is quoted by Western media. At the same time, the Kremlin has repeatedly assured the public that Putin does not have any doubles. For example, on Tuesday, Peskov said that such statements merely make Kremlin officials laugh.
"No. There are no doubles - in regard to work and so on. This fits the category of absurd information canards which are being persistently discussed by a number of media outlets. Of course, it only makes [us] smile."Back in 2020, Putin said in an interview with TASS that he does not have any body doubles. According to the president, the idea was proposed to him for safety reasons in the early 2000s, but he refused it:
"[The idea] came up, but I refused body doubles. This was during some of the most difficult times in the fight against terrorism."Putin said that in the early 2000s, there were proposals to have someone replace him at events that were deemed unsafe for the head of state, but he claimed to have never resorted to body doubles.
The rumors have not been confirmed
Much speculation about the president's ill health has originated in Ukraine. For example, in January, the head of Ukraine's military intelligence, Kirill Budanov, talked about Putin having a supposed incurable illness and warned of his imminent death in an interview with ABC News. This statement was picked up by many media outlets, including the Daily Mail. At the same time, the publication noted that Budanov's claims were not supported by any evidence. According to Budanov, the intelligence service knows about the president's cancer "from sources."
In December 2018, during the annual press conference, Putin commented on rumors about his health and said that it was no different from the average person's.
Responding to the question about how he feels, the president joked:
"Don't even hope! [that something's wrong]." "I exercise and [my health] is fine, thank God. I try to take care of it. But just like everyone else, in between seasons I may get the flu or other things like that. As of today, I'm fine."Rumors about Putin's health have also been refuted in the West. In July of last year, CIA Director William Burns said that Putin was quite healthy.
"There are lots of rumors about President Putin's health and as far as we can tell, he's entirely too healthy. This is not a formal intelligence judgment."Shortly before that, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, in an interview with the French TV channel TF1, noted that the Russian leader appears in public almost every day and everyone can watch him on [TV and other] screens and listen to his speeches.
"I don't think that sane people can see in this person signs of some kind of illness or ailment. I leave it to the conscience of those who spread such rumors."James Nixey, Director of Russia-Eurasia programs at Chatham House, told The Independent, that the General SVR channel is known to spread disinformation and, moreover, in his opinion, "is in the service of the Russian state."
Although Putin's health was under close scrutiny even before the start of Russia's military operation in Ukraine, Nixey called the frequent reports about his condition a result of "wishful thinking."
"71 years old is the average life expectancy of Russian men. He is not the average man. He'll have much better healthcare than anyone else and he appears not to be a heavy drinker compared to his predecessors. I think it's safe to assume he's in reasonably good health for a 71-year-old male."