Vladimir Putin’s health has been called into question again after a video showed him tightly clutching a table throughout a meeting with Russian defense minister Sergei Shoigu.
The clip has sparked fresh theories about his health, which has reportedly deteriorated since he launched Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine on 24 February.
In the footage posted online by the Kremlin, the 69-year-old Russian president grabs hold of the corner of the table with his right hand as soon as he sits down for the meeting, and keeps hold of it for the entirety of the 12 minute clip.
Mr Putin can also be seen intermittently holding the edge of the table with his left hand while Mr Shoigu reads him a statement about Mariupol – where up to 120,000 people have been unable to flee and Russia announced on Thursday it would blockade the Azovstal steel plant that is the last foothold of the Ukrainains in the besieged city.
The Russian president said he wished to congratulate his troops for having “liberated” the Black Sea port city in southern Ukraine – which has seen some of the worst attacks and bloodshed during the invasion. The US State Department said Mr Putin’s claim to have liberated the city was “yet more disinformation from (a) well-worn playbook”.
The footage shows Mr Putin’s right thumb constantly moving as he listens to his defense minister, and it has been suggested that the fidgeting could indicate that he was trying to hide a typical tremor of Parkinson’s disease.
Sir Richard Dearlove – former MI6 head – and Professor Gwythian Prins – previously a Nato adviser – have claimed that Putin has shown signs of the progressive nervous system disorder.
In the clip, Mr Putin moves his feet up and down, appears restless and tense, and clears his throat a number of times while listening to his defense minister – who reportedly suffered a heart attack recently at the age of 66.
The Russian president also sits slightly hunched, with his spine pressed flat against the back of the chair, in contrast to Shoigu who appears to be sitting more upright and without the need for any support.
Anders Aslund, an author and former adviser on Russia and Ukraine, said that both men looked like they were not in good health.
“Shoigu has to read his comments to Putin and slurs badly, suggesting that the rumors of his heart attack are likely. I have sits badly. Poor performance. Worth watching,” he said.
The meeting with Mr Shoigu is not the first time Mr Putin has been spotted gripping a table during a meeting. Also on Thursday, he was snapped holding the corner of a table during a meeting with Nikolay Tokarev, the president of Transneft, a Russian state-controlled oil pipeline company.
Mr Putin was visited by a thyroid cancer specialist 35 times, and an ears, nose, and throat specialist 59 times between 2016 and 2020, according to Russian investigative news outlet Proekt.
The Kremlin leader’s bloated appearance has led Fiona Hill, a US expert on Russia, to tell Politician in February that Mr Putin may be taking high doses of steroids for back pain he has suffered since falling off a horse in 2012 – or “there may be something else,” she added.
Moscow has repeatedly denied reports that Mr Putin has suffered from severely ill health.
Earlier this month, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov denied that Mr Putin had undergone surgery for thyroid cancer, and said that the president’s health was “excellent” and that he had not dealt with any illness more serious than a cold.