CIA Director William Burns threw cold water on rumors that Russian President Vladimir Putin was seriously ill when he said during a speech on Wednesday at the Aspen Security Forum, “There are lots of rumors about President Putin’s health, and as far as we can tell, he’s entirely too healthy.” Burns hastened to add that his observation was not an official intelligence assessment but that, despite his good health, the Russian president may have “his own way of looking at reality.”
In April, there were serious questions about Putin’s health when he appeared with his Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu in a video that the Kremlin released. In the video, Putin looked bloated and fiercely gripped a table while nervously tapping his feet.
And there were other indications as well.
In February, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fl.) tweeted that “something is off” with Putin. Former White House press secretary Jen Psaki told ABC News that the Russian president was “manufacturing threats that don’t exist.” Reuters reported that former British Prime Minister Boris Johnson called him “irrational.”
But Russian officials have routinely denied allegations of Putin’s ill health.
Putin is apparently well enough to travel to Iran and meet with fellow international pariahs, including Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. While there, the Russian president inked a deal that would send Iranian drones to Russia. Burns says it’s a sign of Russian military weakness.
“It’s true that the Russians are reaching out to the Iranians to try to acquire armed drones,” CIA Director William Burns said during a three-hour stop at the Rocky Mountain resort of Aspen, Colorado, for an annual security forum that has drawn senior Biden administration officials, US generals and diplomats.
“They need each other, they don’t really trust each other, in the sense that they’re energy rivals and historical competitors,” Burns said. “It’s important to remind ourselves that it’s a reflection, in some ways, of the deficiencies of Russia’s defense industry today, and the difficulties they’re having after significant losses so far in the war against Ukraine.”
Putin is only 69 and may have put on a little weight during the pandemic. But his mind still appears to be sharp as a tack, and any conjecture to the contrary is little more than idle gossip.