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Did Putin have a health scare last weekend?

Alexei Nikolsky, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP

It’s weird how invested we all are in Putin health rumors, as if there’s any reason to think that the man who replaces him would be less ruthless and more eager to end the war. Putin keeling over could plausibly make things worse. And if he’s about to keel over but hasn’t yet, that could be worst of all. The wife of one Russian oligarch was recently quoted as saying, “There are rumors that he is ill … and I think they’re likely to be true, and if they are true … that makes me really frightened, because a person who is really ill doesn’t really care about what happens next.”

A dying man is playing with house money. And Putin doesn’t strike me as the type who fears consequences in the afterlife for doing everything necessary to preserve Russia’s greatness in this one.

The thought of him being eaten up by cancer is gratifying on a karmic level, though, as it’s the least he deserves for bombing shopping malls and mass-deporting Ukrainian children to achieve a sort of “soft” ethnic cleansing.

And so spirits rose on Sunday when this video made the rounds.

Supposedly Putin’s armored limousine was part of the motorcade. It’s weird to see a motorcade hauling ass towards the Kremlin late on a Saturday night, no?

I’m guessing that this is much ado about nothing in light of the news from Moscow that followed on Sunday. For the first time since the start of the war, Putin will be traveling outside the country this week, visiting Tajikistan and Turkmenistan and then hosting the president of Indonesia in the capital. That’s not the sort of itinerary you announce for a man who just suffered an emergency the night before.

A possibility, then: Putin is paranoid about assassination attempts, having allegedly survived one not long ago, and wanted his trip outside the Kremlin’s walls to be as quick as possible. Especially since it was known that he was holding talks with Belarus’s president in St. Petersburg earlier that day. Assassins may have been lying in wait in the darkened streets of Moscow, ready to intercept him on his return — or so he may have thought.

But … Putin doesn’t live at the Kremlin, reportedly. Was he headed there on urgent business? At 11 p.m. on a Saturday?

Was he not part of the motorcade at all? Was it a decoy, in other words?

If and when a serious attempt to take him out happens, it won’t happen on the streets. It’ll come from his own cronies, a former CIA Moscow station chief recently told the Daily Beast:

“Nobody’s gonna ask, ‘Hey Vladimir, would you like to leave?’ No. It’s a f***ing hammer to the head and he’s dead. Or it’s time to go to the sanatorium,” Hoffman told The Daily Beast. “They schwack him for it. That’s what they’ll do.”

Three key members of Putin’s inner circle to watch, according to Hoffman, include Nikolai Patrushev, the chief of Putin’s Security Council; Alexander Bortnikov, the director of the FSB; and Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu…

“If Ukraine by some miracle were able to push these guys out of the Donbas, and make it humiliating for him, I think he’s up for grabs,” Marks said…

“These guys that are going to do it are going to be so secret about it so that Putin doesn’t find them and kill them first,” Hoffman said. “It’ll happen all of a sudden. And he’ll be dead.”

It’s unlikely that Ukraine will push Russia completely out of the Donbas, which would involve erasing the gains the Russians and their proxies have made since 2014, not just since February of this year. The White House is increasingly skeptical that it’ll happen and has begun to consider ways to nudge Zelensky to redefine “victory” more realistically. But that’s not going to happen near-term, for the simple reason that the Ukrainians want to see how much can be achieved with the shiny new toys Uncle Sam just gave them.

The HIMARS system allows for precise target at a very long battlefield range, giving Ukraine a chance to cripple the Russian supply chain by targeting soft spots from afar. They get at least a few months to try to make Russia’s knees buckle and hope that, at that point, someone in the Kremlin with a hammer decides that the country’s had enough.