KEY POINTS

  • Western officials said Putin could lose the next presidential election
  • More than 34,000 Russian soldiers have died since the war began in Ukraine
  • The Kremlin has dismissed claims that the Russian president is terminally ill

Rumors about Russian President Vladimir Putin’s failing health and speculations about his possible successor continue to spread amid the war in Ukraine, according to Western officials.

Russia has lost more than 34,000 soldiers since it launched a “special military operation” in Ukraine in February. The Russian economy has also sunk following economic sanctions imposed by Europe and the West over the war. Experts predict that Russia’s economy will experience its biggest contraction since the financial crash in 2014 and 2017 as imports into the country have fallen by 40%, according to the Evening Standard.

Since the war began in Ukraine, Putin has also become the subject of various rumors claiming he is suffering from cancer or Parkinson’s disease.

Western officials said these factors, coupled with Russia’s false promise that they would be welcomed in Ukraine and the Kremlin’s attempts to clamp down on free speech, could lead to Putin losing in the next presidential election.

“The damage that [Putin] is doing to Russia standing in the world, to Russia economically, to Russia's future. The way he is humbling Russia. There will be political consequences. People are talking more about succession now in a way that they were not six months ago. So it does seem to me to open that discussion up again,” Western officials said. “And the next sort of potential opening is 2024. Of course, it might not happen because the elections might not happen.”

Western officials added that since the war began in February, spending on funerals has spiked in Russia. As many as 34,100 Russian soldiers are believed to have been killed in the war, according to estimates from the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine.

Remarks from the Western officials come after several videos surfaced showing Putin furiously gripping a table for support during meetings or struggling to stand at an awards ceremony. The Kremlin dismissed the claims and insisted that the 69-year-old Russian leader is healthy.

Dmitry Peskov, the Kremlin’s spokesman, also laughed off speculations that Putin is terminally ill, adding that the president was playing hockey last week.

Putin himself also dismissed rumors that he was suffering from cancer during his speech at the annual St. Petersburg International Economic Forum.

Fighters of Ukraine's territorial defense unit that supports the regular army take part in an exercise near the town of Bucha on June 17, 2022
Fighters of Ukraine's territorial defense unit that supports the regular army take part in an exercise near the town of Bucha on June 17, 2022 AFP / Sergei SUPINSKY
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