Russian President Vladimir Putin underwent treatment for advanced cancer in April, according to several U.S. intelligence leaders citing a classified report, as Newsweek first reported Thursday.
The officials – representing the Director of National Intelligence (DNI), the Air Force and the Defense Intelligence Agency – also confirmed an assassination attempt on Putin earlier this year. The intelligence officials expressed concern that Putin has become paranoid, adding to fears related to the unpredictable outcome of Russia’s war with Ukraine.
“Putin’s grip is strong but no longer absolute,” one of the top officials familiar with the report said. “The jockeying inside the Kremlin has never been more intense during his rule, everyone sensing that the end is near.”
The officials warned that the status of Putin’s health is unclear – his isolation has made it difficult for U.S. intelligence to assess his medical situation.
“One source of our best intelligence, which is contact with outsiders, largely dried up as a result of the Ukraine war,” the DIA senior official told Newsweek in an email.
“Putin has had few meetings with foreign leaders,” the official added, noting that “Putin’s isolation has thus increased levels of speculation.”
“What we know is that there is an iceberg out there, albeit one covered in fog,” the DNI leader said.
“We need to be mindful of the influence of wishful thinking,” the retired Air Force leader warned. “We learned—or didn’t learn—that lesson the hard way with Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein.”
In mid-May, Ukraine’s Ukraine’s head of intelligence Maj. Gen. Kyrylo Budanov said that the Russian president was in a “very bad psychological and physical condition and he is very sick.”
The DNI official said Putin has long been “seen as omnipotent” but was not characterized as “struggling with the future, his own in particular.”
“Is Putin sick? Absolutely. But we shouldn’t let waiting for his death drive proactive actions on our part,” the Air Force leader added. “A power vacuum after Putin could be very dangerous for the world.”
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has dismissed any suggestions that Putin is sick.
“I don’t think that a sane person can suspect any signs of an illness or ailment in this man,” Lavrov said during an interview last weekend.
The DIA official said Lavrov’s “insistence that everything is normal is as much a declaration of allegiance to Putin as it is any kind of diagnosis to be listened to.”
“A weakened Putin—an obviously declining leader, not one at the top of his game—has less influence over his advisors and subordinates, say, if he orders the use of nukes,” the official continued.
“Putin is definitely sick … whether he’s going to die soon is mere speculation,” the DIA official added. “Still, we shouldn’t rest assured. We shouldn’t answer our own mail, if you will, believing only the intelligence that affirms our own desired outcome. He’s still dangerous, and chaos does lie ahead if he does die. We need to focus on that. Be ready.”