Image courtesy of the Wall Street Journal
by Jacqueline Jedrych
Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov has issued a rare, on-the-record comment in response to British tabloid The Sun’s allegations that 68-year-old Russian President Vladimir Putin is suffering from Parkinson’s disease. The Sun claims that an inside source revealed that he has plans to step down in January due to health concerns, ending his 20-year reign, second only to Stalin.
“No, he is in excellent health…. There isn’t much to comment on here. This is pure nonsense. The president is well,” Peskov said to state news agency TASS.
The President is rumored to be suffering from Parkinson’s disease, a progressive disease that leads to tremors, balance issues, and trouble walking. Observers from The Sun claim that recent footage of Putin shows his legs trembling and as he appears to be in pain while clutching the arms of his chair.
These claims are not new. In 2015, a group of scientists from the Department of Neurology from Radboud University Medical Centre claimed that the president’s gait could be a sign of Parkinson’s. He tends to walk with his right arm in motion and his left arm pinned to his side. Others remarked on its similarity to the way that the KGB is trained to walk with their weapons, coining the term “gunslinger’s walk.”
The recent drafting of new legislation sparked these claims of resignation anew. With two bills concerning the fate of former presidents proposed in one week, many speculate that Putin could be preparing for a speedy resignation. The lower house of Russia’s legislature introduced a bill that would grant former Russian presidents lifetime immunity from criminal charges and made it very difficult to revoke, requiring an overwhelming vote in the upper house. Putin also proposed a bill granting former presidents the opportunity to immediately run for “Senator for Life” after their presidential term is over. Contrastingly, the desire to leave office didn’t seem to be on his mind in July, when the Duma overwhelmingly passed a Constitutional change that would reset Putin’s term limits, allowing him to run again in 2024 and remain in power until 2036.
“This is the practice that is being applied in many countries of the world and it is quite justified,” Peskov said in response to speculation about the motives of the Senator for Life bill. “This is not innovation from the point of view of international practice.”
However, Moscow political scientist Professor Valery Solovei furthered the claims, asserting that Putin’s 37-year-old ex-gymnast mistress, Alina Kabaeva, and Putin’s daughters, 35-year-old Maria Vorontsova and 34-year-old Katerina Tikhonova, are pressuring him to step down for his health.
“[His] family has a great influence on him,” Solovei said. “He intends to make public his handover plans in January.”
Regardless of the validity of The Sun’s article, the fact remains that Putin has no named or obvious successor. However, 2020 may force the president to evaluate his options for the future of Russia.