Classified U.S. intel report: Putin was treated for "advanced cancer" in April

Alexei Nikolsky, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP

What do we think? Is this disinformation aimed at spooking the Kremlin and encouraging a coup? Or is it another case of U.S. intelligence puncturing Moscow’s own disinformation with the truth?


Our guys were right all along about Russia’s plans for Ukraine earlier this year, leaving Putin reportedly “incandescent” with rage that the Americans had penetrated the Kremlin’s security apparatus so thoroughly. If our sources are capable of reading Putin’s battle plans, maybe they’re capable of reading his medical charts too.

And there are enough rumors about his poor health lately from other outlets to suggest there’s some sort of fire that’s causing all this smoke. Three weeks ago Ukraine’s intelligence chief claimed Putin is in a “very bad psychological and physical condition and he is very sick.” The day before that, New Lines reported that it had obtained audio of a Russian oligarch telling a friend during casual conversation that the tsar was “very ill with blood cancer.” Then there was the expose in early April from the Russian news source Proekt speculating that Putin has thyroid cancer since he’s spent an unusual amount of time in the company of specialists in that field.

There has to be something to it. But if so, it’s not unvarnished good news. William Arkin of Newsweek reports:

Vladimir Putin’s health is a subject of intense conversation inside the Biden administration after the intelligence community produced its fourth comprehensive assessment at the end of May. The classified U.S. report says Putin seems to have re-emerged after undergoing treatment in April for advanced cancer, three U.S. intelligence leaders who have read the reports tell Newsweek.

The high-ranking officials, who represent three separate intelligence agencies, are concerned that Putin is increasingly paranoid about his hold on power, a status that makes for a rocky and unpredictable course in Ukraine. But it is one, they say, that also makes the prospects of nuclear war less likely.

“Putin’s grip is strong but no longer absolute,” says one of the senior intelligence officers with direct access to the reports. “The jockeying inside the Kremlin has never been more intense during his rule, everyone sensing that the end is near.”

Many pieces of intelligence were analyzed for the White House: the consensus was that Putin was ill and probably dying.


According to Arkin, an intelligence report issued two weeks before this one said Putin was “gravely ill.” The latest one appears to have backed off the “gravely” part. It also corroborates what Ukraine’s intelligence chief alleged about an assassination plot aimed at Putin towards the start of the war. That plot obviously failed, but “[t]he CIA and foreign intelligence services were picking up consistent stories of discord at the top of the national security ministries, as well as the desire on the part of Russian diplomats to defect to the west,” per Arkin.

The U.S. intel report isn’t the only evidence of a Putin health issue to emerge within the past week either, although it’s surely the most reliable. A few days ago the Mirror tabloid in the UK reported that an FSB agent has also been whispering about Putin’s condition:

The FSB officer said the Russian president, 69, “has a severe form of rapidly progressing cancer.”

And he added: “He has no more than two to three years to stay alive.”

The spy said the disease means Putin is also losing his sight.

He revealed: “We are told he is suffering from headaches and when he appears on TV he needs pieces of paper with everything written in huge letters to read what he’s going to say.

He added that Putin’s limbs have begun to shake uncontrollably at times, which might explain that strange incident where he gripped the side of a table for 10 minutes during a meeting with his defense minister.


The good news, as noted by Arkin, is that a sick Putin might be less likely to be obeyed by his deputies if he gives any reckless orders. It’s one thing to end civilization on a single man’s whims, it’s another to do so on the whims of a man whom you know to be ill and under the influence of medication.

The bad news is that there’s no guarantee his deputies will defy him. A Putin who’s infirm, facing his own mortality, and furious at the west for spoiling his great victory in Ukraine might decide he has nothing to lose by inflicting the ultimate retaliation. In which case the fate of the world would hang on the Russian military’s willingness to disobey.

Another piece of good news is that, were Putin to die, his successor might prefer rapprochement with the west to endless war in Ukraine. But that also comes with bad news: His successor might very well be more reckless and confrontational than he is, especially given the political imperative he’d feel to demonstrate strength to his new subjects. A new Russian president who immediately sued for peace would infuriate his country’s hawks, risking an immediate coup. Since the tide of war has now turned towards Russia in the east, he’d be accused at home of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory by declining to advance towards Kiev.

The brutal truth is that Putin may be the west’s best bet for a near-term resolution of the war. But as the rumors of his health spread, he too might feel obliged to fight on in Ukraine past the point of reason in order to prove that he’s still fully in command and indomitable as leader. There’s no deus ex machina in the form of cancer that’s going to deliver the world from an increasingly brutal war, I fear. And that’s entirely his fault.


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