Are you okay with Vladimir Putin? From two major TV appearances on Russian state television, he seems rather rogue, mate, as Aussies would say.
During a conversation with an equally flimsy defense minister, Sergei Shoigou, the 69-year-old Russian leader was oddly overpowered. He slumped in his chair, his left leg and foot shaking constantly, his face betraying a slight paralysis. The left arm was still motionless, motionless. The right hand gripped the table for dear life.
The TV clip from his attendance at the Easter service in the Cathedral of Christ the Savior over the weekend showed him standing alone, looking less comfortable, constantly chewing his lower lip. He appeared distracted, puffy-faced, with heavy makeup.
Of course, the media charlatans had a good time, with several claiming they had known for months and years that the Russian leader was suffering from cancer or Parkinson’s disease – all fueling the paranoid delusion .
Ill health and leadership have been hot topics throughout history. Churchill suffered a severe stroke in June 1953 and continued as prime minister. Hitler was visibly suffering from tremors caused by Parkinson’s or Huntington’s disease during his last two years. Would the outcome of the Battle of Waterloo have been different if Napoleon had not suffered an acute attack of hemorrhoids that morning?
Putin has always projected himself as a strongman and a supreme athlete. The conversation with Shoigou was oddly pessimistic – as she was supposed to be celebrating victory in the port of Mariupol.
Durham-born Russian expert Dr Fiona Hill, an adviser to three US presidents, believes Putin’s behavior is now exaggerated by isolation, paranoia and poor health. Since coming to power in 1999, he has sought revenge on himself and his Russia, against the United States, NATO and Britain.
It starts to sound like the plot theme of the movie Dr Strangelove in which a deceived commander draws the United States and the Soviet Union into a nuclear confrontation. The brilliant Peter Sellers plays four parts and wrote some of the key lines.
If only the sellers were here now to interpret Vladimir Putin’s goth personality and psyche.
Robert Fox is defense editor