Vladimir Putin appeared to walk with a limp and sat with a blanket over his lap during Victory Day commemorations in Moscow today, raising fresh doubts over his health.
The Russian leader, 69, attended the event – which commemorates Nazi Germany’s surrender in 1945 – to give a speech during which he projected an image of Russian strength and military might despite the faltering war in Ukraine.
But at several points – including as he left a speaking podium and went to the Tomb of the Unknown Solider to lay a wreath – Putin appeared to be walking with a heavy step, as if trying to disguise a limp.
And, during the parade itself, he was seen sitting with a heavy blanket across his knees despite geriatric war veterans being sat around him with their laps uncovered.
On their own either incident would be easy enough to dismiss – but taken together they will do little to dispel persistent rumours that Putin is suffering health issues.
Vladimir Putin (centre) watched part of Monday’s Victory Day parade in Moscow with a blanket draped over his lap, while geriatric war veterans sat around him uncovered
The 69-year-old appeared to be walking with a limp as he descended from a podium and walked to lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier
Putin’s face appeared puffy, in an appearance that will do little to dispel rumours that he is suffering from poor health
Two years before he decided to invade Ukraine, rumours began swirling about Putin’s health including suggestions he had undergone cancer surgery.
Valery Solovei, a political analyst and prominent Putin critic, began spreading the rumour in late 2020 while also suggesting he was suffering from Parkinson’s.
The rumours gained such traction that the Kremlin was forced to go on record and deny them, with Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov insisting his boss was in ‘excellent health’ and any rumour to the contrary was ‘complete nonsense’.
But the whispering has steadfastly refused to die out and has intensified since the war in Ukraine began, with critics suggesting that Putin looks unwell in TV appearances and is noticeably puffy around his face.
Leaked footage of a meeting with Belarusian president Alexander Lukashenko in the early stages of the war also appeared to show pronounced arm and leg tremours.
Shaking is one of the main symptoms of Parkinson’s – a condition that Hitler is thought to have suffered from towards the end of the Second World War.
As Putin sat down with Lukashenko he was seen gripping the arm of his chair – perhaps in an attempt to head off any more shaking.
He then pulled a similar pose – this time gripping the edge of a table – while meeting defence minister Sergei Shoigu a few weeks later.
Then came an Easter Sunday mass during which the Russian leader made unusual fidgeting motions with his lips while listening to the service.
He could be seen making the same lip motions following Monday’s Victory Day parade, as he walked with Shoigu to lay a wreath.
Monday’s Victory Parade was designed to project an image of Russian strength, despite the war in Ukraine grinding towards a stalemate
A Russian intercontinental ballistic missile – designed to carry nukes – drives through the Red Square as part of the Victory Day parade
Putin used a speech to say the West had been planning to invade Russian territory and that going to war in Ukraine was the only option
During his speech, Putin blamed Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine on western policies and said it was necessary to ward off potential aggression.
Speaking at a military parade in Red Square to mark the Second World War victory over Nazi Germany, Mr Putin drew parallels between the Red Army’s fighting against the Nazi troops and the Russian forces’ action in Ukraine.
While lambasting the West, Mr Putin gave no indication of a shift in strategies or made any indication he is going to declare a broad mobilisation, as some in Ukraine and the West fear.
Addressing the phalanxes of elite Russian troops filling Red Square, Mr Putin said the campaign in Ukraine was needed to avert ‘a threat that was absolutely unacceptable to us (that) has been methodically created next to our borders’.
‘The danger was rising by the day,’ he claimed, adding ‘Russia has given a pre-emptive response to an aggression’ in a ‘forced, timely and the only correct decision by a sovereign, powerful and independent country’.
The Russian leader has repeatedly accused Ukraine of harbouring aggressive intentions with support from the US and its allies – claims Ukrainian and western officials have denied.
In his speech at the parade, Mr Putin again scolded the West for failing to heed Russian demands for security guarantees and a roll-back to Nato’s expansion, arguing it left Moscow no other choice but to attack Ukraine.
The Russian leader said Russian troops in Ukraine are fighting for the country’s security and called a minute of silence to honour the soldiers killed combat.
Mr Putin said some of the troops taking part in the parade have previously fought in Ukraine.
Putin gripped the armrest of his chair during a meeting with Alexander Lukashenko earlier this year, after footage showed his arm shaking
Putin also gripped the edge of a table during a recent meeting with his defence chief, perhaps covering up the signs of a tremour
During an Easter Sunday mass, Putin fidgeted with his lips – and pulled a similar expression during Monday’s Victory Day parade
He said the troops in Ukraine have been ‘fighting for the Motherland so that no one will forget the lessons of World War Two and there will be no place in the world for hangmen, executioners and the Nazis’.
The Victory Day that Russia marks on May 9 is the country’s most important holiday, celebrated with military parades and fireworks across the county.
The Soviet Union lost 27 million people in the Second World War, which it calls the Great Patriotic War.
The conflict, which devastated the country and caused enormous suffering, has left a deep scar in the national psyche.
Some in Ukraine and the West expected Mr Putin to use his speech at the parade to switch from calling the attack on Ukraine a ‘special military operation’ to acknowledging it as a war.
Mr Putin did not make any such shift in rhetoric or give any indication that the Kremlin may change its strategy and declare a broad mobilisation to beef up its ranks.
The Kremlin has focussed on Ukraine’s eastern industrial heartland known as the Donbas, where Moscow-backed rebels have been fighting Ukrainian government forces since 2014.
That conflict erupted weeks after Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula.
The Russian military has re-armed and re-supplied its forces withdrawn from areas near Kyiv and other regions in Ukraine’s north-east and moved them to Donbas in an apparent attempt to encircle and destroy the most capable and seasoned Ukrainian troops concentrated there.