Ukraine-Russia conflict: Did Covid send Vladimir Putin mad?

Ukraine-Russia conflict: Did Covid send Vladimir Putin mad?

WIth the eyes of the world on Vladimir Putin, questions are being asked about the Russian leader’s state of mind after he announced the invasion of Ukraine in ‘rambling, terrifying, apocalyptic’ fashion. 

Rumours surrounding the Russian leader’s health have been swirling for years, with  repeated reports suggesting that he is suffering from cancer and Parkinson’s disease.

On top of that, the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on both the President’s physical and mental health can’t be underestimated, and it’s been suggested that brain fog as a result of Long Covid could be imparing his cognitive function. 

Although it’s not clear if he’s had the virus, the Sputnik vaccine is not known to be reliable and after isolating in September after members of his inner circle tested positive he disappeared  from view for a long period in October. 

The Council For Foreign relations has speculated that, after behavior and statements that are “off” and “not right,” he is suffering brain fog induced by Long Covid. 

What’s more, the isolation caused by the pandemic itself could have left the 69-year-old even further detached from reality, with one neuropsychologist claiming the ‘progressive isolation’ could have led to hubris syndrome, which ‘diminished his ability to weigh up risk’.

It is commonly associated with a loss of contact with reality and an overestimation of one’s own competence, accomplishments or capabilities. 

It is characterised by a pattern of exuberant self-confidence, recklessness and contempt for others, and is most particularly recognised in subjects holding positions of significant power. 

Speculation is mounting that Vladimir Putin could be suffering from the effects of long-Covid, which experts suggesting his ability to 'weigh up risk' may have been impacted during the pandemic

Speculation is mounting that Vladimir Putin could be suffering from the effects of long-Covid, which experts suggesting his ability to ‘weigh up risk’ may have been impacted during the pandemic

Pundits were amused earlier this month when photographs emerged of Emmanuel Macron kept at a distance during his crunch meeting with Putin over Ukraine

Pundits were amused earlier this month when photographs emerged of Emmanuel Macron kept at a distance during his crunch meeting with Putin over Ukraine 

Surrounded by Russian cronies who are terrified to tell him no, Putin is hardly a world leader who could be associated with being the most grounded or level headed.

But in televised addresses leading up to the invasion of Ukraine, he’s been by turns rambling, terrifying and apocalyptic while yesterday he gave a chilling warning to its allies in the West, promising there would be dire consequences for any foreign state that ‘interferes’.

Professor Ian Robertson, a neuropsychologist at Trinity College Dublin, has suggested he could be suffering from hubris syndrome.

Speaking to The I, Robertson said Putin’s political trajectory ‘is as much personal as political, because once the hubris syndrome takes hold in the brain, the personal and the national are identical because the leader is the nation and its destiny’.  

Meanwhile he also said changes in the frontal lobe of the brain caused by the condition could diminish the person’s ability to weigh up risk. 

At the start of the pandemic, Putin went to extraordinary lengths to avoid catching the virus during a hospital visit, donning a full hazmat suit at Russia’s main coronavirus clinic.

But on the whole, the President has stayed decidedly out of the public eye during the Covid-19 crisis, with officials and journalists having to self-isolate before meeting the president. 

In March 2020, Putin went to extraordinary lengths to avoid catching the virus during a hospital visit, donning a full hazmat suit at  Russia's main coronavirus clinic

In March 2020, Putin went to extraordinary lengths to avoid catching the virus during a hospital visit, donning a full hazmat suit at  Russia’s main coronavirus clinic 

Power really DOES go to the head: The syndrome which leaders develop which leaves them with a ‘loss of contact with reality’ 

Hubris, say the researchers, is commonly associated with a loss of contact with reality and an overestimation of one’s own competence, accomplishments or capabilities.

It is characterised by a pattern of exuberant self-confidence, recklessness and contempt for others, and is most particularly recognised in subjects holding positions of significant power.

Fourteen clinical symptoms of Hubris syndrome have been described. People who show at least three of these could be diagnosed with the disorder.

In a 2013 study, researchers at St George’s, University of London, searched for evidence of some of these clinical features in the language used by three British Prime Ministers – Margaret Thatcher, Tony Blair and John Major – by examining transcribed samples of spoken language taken from Prime Minister’s Questions.

They thought that frequent use of certain words or phrases, such as ‘sure’, ‘certain’ and ‘confident’, the first person pronouns ‘I’ or ‘me’, references to God or history, might show up during ‘hubristic’ periods.

They found that ‘I’ and ‘me’ and the word ‘sure’ were among the strongest positive correlations over time in Tony Blair’s speech.

Blair’s use of the word ‘important’ also increased with time. Words and phrases that became more frequent with time in the speeches of Lady Thatcher and Tony Blair also included the phrase ‘we shall’, while phrases that included the word ‘duties’ diminished.

The authors also found that language became more complex and less predictable during hubristic periods.

For example, Lady Thatcher’s language becomes more complex at the end of her term of office, when her decisions and judgements were opening deep divisions within her own party. The same happened to Tony Blair’s speech during the run-up to the invasion of Iraq.

These linguistic patterns were not reflected in the language of John Major. The relative frequency of the word ‘we’ compared to ‘I’ was in fact higher throughout the terms of office of both Thatcher and Blair than at any point of Major’s premiership.

Additionally, the changes over time in words and phrases adopted by both Thatcher and Blair appeared to mirror the time course of hubristic behaviour.

Dr Peter Garrard, the lead researcher, from St George’s, University of London, said: ‘Hubris syndrome represents a radical change in a person’s outlook, style and attitude after they acquire positions of power or great influence.

‘They become obsessed with their self-image, excessively confident in their own judgement and dismissive of others, often leading to rash, ill thought-out decisions.

‘In other words, the acquisition of power can bring about a change in personality: it is as if power, almost literally “goes to their head”.

‘This work shows us that language can reflect this highly characteristic personality change.’ 

Last year, Russian Olympic medalists invited to meet with president were told they would need to spend a week in quarantine before the meeting went ahead. 

And in September, it emerged Putin had entered self-isolation after a member of his entourage contracted Covid-19 despite extensive precautions.

The Russian president abandoned a scheduled trip to Tajikistan, and did not campaign in person for parliamentary elections.

He has been fully vaccinated with the Russian coronavirus vaccine Sputnik V – receiving his second jab in April.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters that Putin was ‘absolutely healthy’, but would self-isolate after coming in contact with someone who contracted the virus.

He did not clarify for how long Putin would remain in self-isolation, but assured that the president will continue working as usual.

Asked if Putin tested negative for the virus, Peskov said: ‘Of course, yes.’

Peskov did not say who among Putin’s contacts were infected, saying only that there were several cases.

It was claimed earlier this month that Emmanuel Macron was kept at a distance during their crunch meeting over Ukraine after the French President had refused to take a Covid test over fears the Russians would obtain his DNA.

Pundits were struck by photos of Mr Macron and the Russian President sitting at opposite ends of a 13ft long table to discuss the crisis in eastern Europe.

But two sources with knowledge of the French leader’s health protocol said Mr Macron had been asked to take a Covid test by the Kremlin before meeting Mr Putin.

Speaking to the Reuters news agency, the sources claimed that Mr Macron was told either to accept a PCR test conducted by the Russians and be allowed near the dictator, or refuse and abide by more stringent social distancing.

‘We knew very well that meant no handshake and that long table. But we could not accept that they get their hands on the president’s DNA,’ one source said, referring to security concerns if the French leader was tested by Russian doctors.

‘The Russians told us Putin needed to be kept in a strict health bubble,’ the second source said. 

Footage weeks later showed the leader having a coughing fit during a TV appearance. 

Putin was holding a meeting with officials to discuss the ‘acute financial problems’ caused by coronavirus when he suffered the bout of coughing.

The video was later edited so that Putin’s coughing fit seemed less severe. 

State news agency TASS asked the Kremlin about Putin’s health and was told he was ‘absolutely normal’.

‘The president apologised and continued the meeting almost without pausing,’ the agency said.  

It’s not the first time that reports have emerged of Putin’s ongoing health battles. 

Experts previously noted his ‘gunslinger’s gait’ – a clearly reduced right arm swing compared to his left, giving him a lilting swagger.

An asymmetrically reduced arm swing is a classic feature of Parkinson’s and can manifest in ‘clinically intact subjects with a predisposition to later develop’ the disease, according to the British Medical Journal.  

In 2014, the Kremlin denied reports from an American newspaper that Putin maybe suffering from pancreatic cancer.

The Russian president’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov was quoted by RIA Novosti news agency saying: ‘Dream on – and curse their tongues. Everything is normal.’

Peskov had been asked to comment on the reports from The New York Post, which spread to other media.

Vladimir Putin entered self-isolation after a member of his entourage contracted Covid-19 a day after meeting Syrian president Bashar al-Assad in September last year

Vladimir Putin entered self-isolation after a member of his entourage contracted Covid-19 a day after meeting Syrian president Bashar al-Assad in September last year 

The US paper’s report headlined ‘Putin’s Health Woes’ claimed there were rumours in Poland and Belarus that the 62 year old strongman had ‘cancer of the spinal cord’.

But the Post’s Richard Johnson wrote: ‘My sources say it’s pancreatic cancer, one of the most lethal forms of the disease.’

WHAT IS PARKINSON’S?

Parkinson’s disease affects one in 500 people, including about one million Americans.

It causes muscle stiffness, slowness of movement, tremors, sleep disturbance, chronic fatigue, an impaired quality of life and can lead to severe disability.

It is a progressive neurological condition that destroys cells in the part of the brain that controls movement.

Sufferers are known to have diminished supplies of dopamine because nerve cells that make it have died.

There is currently no cure and no way of stopping the progression of the disease, but hundreds of scientific trials are underway to try and change that.  

The disease claimed the life of boxing legend Muhammad Ali in 2016.

The report went on: ‘Putin was allegedly being treated by a doctor from the old East Germany.

‘The doc had been trying various treatments, including steroid shots, which would explain Putin’s puffy appearance.

‘But I’m told the physician quit recently, confiding that he was mistreated by Putin’s security detail.’  

Later that year in November, a prominent critic of Putin claimed that the Russian president was suffering from cancer and underwent surgery. 

Valery Solovei, who claims to have sources ‘at the epicentre of decision making’, suggested 68-year-old Putin had the operation in February.

Another unnamed source suggested the operation was on Putin’s abdomen.

Solovei also suggested that he has Parkinson’s. 

Solovei, former head of PR at Moscow State Institute of International Relations, believed at the time that Putin planned on stepping down in January due to his health problems and was planning to name daughter Katerina Tikhonova as his successor. 

Speaking about Putin’s alleged ill-health, he said: ”One is of psycho-neurological nature, the other is a cancer problem.

‘If anyone is interested in the exact diagnosis, I’m not a doctor, and I have no ethical right to reveal these problems.

‘The second diagnosis is a lot, lot more dangerous than the first named diagnosis as Parkinson’s does not threaten physical state, but just limits public appearances. 

Critics have previously noted his 'gunslinger's gait' – a clearly reduced right arm swing compared to his left, giving him a lilting swagger. An asymmetrically reduced arm swing is a classic feature of Parkinson's

Critics have previously noted his ‘gunslinger’s gait’ – a clearly reduced right arm swing compared to his left, giving him a lilting swagger. An asymmetrically reduced arm swing is a classic feature of Parkinson’s

‘Based on this information people will be able to make a conclusion about his life horizon, which wouldn’t even require specialist medical education.’

The Kremlin firmly denied that there is anything wrong with Putin’s health at the time. 

It was unclear exactly when Solovei believes the alleged cancer operation took place, but sources claimed Putin’s first appearance afterwards was a flower-laying ceremony on February 19.  

Solovei also claimed that Putin’s gymnast lover Alina Kabaeva, have been urging him to step down from power.  

Footage circulated in Russia of Putin’s legs moving around as he gripped onto the armrest of a chair, suggesting his ill health. 

Eyes are also drawn to a twitching pen in the former KGB operative’s fingers and a cup which analysts suggested were filled with painkillers.   

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