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Rumours that Vladimir Putin is dangerously ill have been boosted by a secret US intelligence report that claims the Russian leader was treated for an advanced case of cancer last month.
Three highly-placed sources within the US intelligence community say they’ve read the report and that there’s evidence that potential rivals within the Kremlin are preparing for a leadership contest because “the end is near”.
A Kremlin insider revealed last week that Putin had “no more than two to three years” to live, and that one of the most obvious signs of his declining health is that he’s starting to lose his eyesight.
The three sources that have seen the latest report prepared for US president Joe Biden – one from the office of the Director of National Intelligence, one a retired Air Force senior officer, and one from the Defence Intelligence Agency – stress that it’s increasingly difficult to obtain any reliable first-hand evidence about Putin’s condition because he is becoming increasingly isolated and has very few face-to-face meetings.
"Putin has had few meetings with foreign leaders," one source told Newsweek, "Putin's isolation has thus increased levels of speculation."
Putin spotted with 'wool blanket' on Russia's Victory Day amid health concerns
But speculation about the leader’s health is growing inside Russia as well as in the Pentagon. "Putin's grip is strong but no longer absolute," says one senior intelligence source. "The jockeying inside the Kremlin has never been more intense during his rule, everyone sensing that the end is near."
It’s no secret that Biden would like to see and end to Putin’s reign. Both he and US Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin have sparked diplomatic questions over unguarded remarks about Putin.
"Even if they agree that the intelligence [that Putin is dying] is reliable," one of the intelligence sources says, "they can't bank on an expiration date nor signal their support for a Russia without Putin”.
The Pentagon insiders point out that Russia still represents a threat – whether Putin lives or dies.
"A nuclear-armed Russia is still a nuclear-armed Russia,” they add. “Whether Putin is strong or weak, in or out, and not wanting to provoke him or his potential successor into thinking we are hell bent on their destruction is an important part of continued strategic stability," says the DNI official.
"Putin is definitely sick [but] whether he's going to die soon is mere speculation," the insider stresses. “He’s still dangerous, and chaos does lie ahead if he does die. We need to focus on that. Be ready."
- Vladimir Putin
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