Whoa. Putin to undergo cancer surgery, transfer power

Whoa. Putin to undergo cancer surgery, transfer power
Mikhail Klimentyev, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP

We’ve been hearing repeated rumors about Vladimir Putin having some undisclosed medical problems for a while now. And some of his public appearances lately have shown him to be not in top physical form, to say the least. But if a new report out today is confirmed, there could be a reason for all of these rumors. Putin is allegedly scheduled to have surgery for cancer very soon and he will be handing over control of Russia to Nikolai Patrushev, the head of the Russian police Security Council and one of Putin’s closest and most trusted allies in the government. Patrushev would take control during the surgery and during Putin’s recovery, assuming all goes smoothly. (NY Post)

Russian President Vladimir Putin is set to undergo cancer surgery and temporarily hand over power to a hardline former federal police chief, according to a new report.

Putin will transfer control of Russia’s government to Nikolai Patrushev, head of the Russian federal police’s Security Council, while he is incapacitated during and after the procedure, according to a video from the mysterious Telegram channel “General SVR” on Saturday.

The channel — which is purportedly run by a former Russian Foreign Intelligence Service lieutenant general known by the pseudonym “Viktor Mikhailovich” — reported that Putin has been told by doctors that he must undergo an operation.

There are reasons to be cautious before fully embracing this story. The only cited source for the news is the “General SVR” channel on Telegram. It’s allegedly run by an anonymous former agent in Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service who now opposes the Putin regime. That account has been the source of some other key reporting in the past that’s turned out to be accurate, so this could all very well be true, but it’s worth looking for further confirmation.

Before anyone gets their hopes up in terms of regime change, the surgery is being described as relatively “minor” and Putin is only expected to be out of power for a few days. If that’s the case, this may not wind up changing anything in terms of the ongoing crisis in Ukraine. But even if Putin were to be taken out for a significant amount of time (or permanently), his replacement might arguably be worse. Nikolai Patrushev is widely considered to be an even more brutal, sadistic actor than Putin himself, so a more reasonable negotiating partner for Ukraine wouldn’t be likely to emerge.

I do have to wonder if this story could be part of the seemingly erratic behavior Putin has been displaying. If he’s been dealing with this diagnosis for a while now, particularly at the age of 70, might he have been worried that his days were drawing to a close? And if so, could the Ukrainian invasion have been one last march to victory to seal his legacy, at least in his mind?

Either way, we should know soon enough. Either Putin will deny the story and wave this off as a hoax or he will report to the hospital. And if he does go in, but emerges in just a few days to resume control, this may just pass as another relatively minor event. Alternately, if he’s doing worse than we’re being told and this winds up being the end of the Putin era, it sounds like we won’t have anything better to look forward to in his wake.

Update (AP): Assuming there’s any truth to this report, the surgery surely won’t be happening this week. Next Monday is the “Victory Day” parade in Russia and it’s unimaginable under the circumstances that Putin would risk missing that due to surgical complications. If there are any procedures on tap, they’d happen next week at the earliest.

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John Sexton 10:40 PM on May 30, 2023