Here’s the poop on the latest rumors about Russian President Vladimir Putin’s health. The hashtag #PutinPoopedHimself began trending on Twitter after General SVR’s Telegram channel asserted that Putin had fallen down five steps on a staircase, landing on his coccyx. Not Cossacks, but coccyx, which is the medical term for tailbone. Apparently, the tailbone didn’t end there, though. According to General SVR, this fall caused Putin to “defecate involuntarily,” as opposed to defecate voluntarily on the stairs. The image of someone falling down stairs and then having some fecal release may seem rather different from the picture of Putin riding shirtless on a horse that emerged over a decade ago in 2009. However, Putin himself hasn’t been putting forth statements about any recent fall or his coccyx. So the question is whether the Telegram story is actually legitimate or simply a pile of you-know-what.
Naturally, relying on Twitter to vet information and determine whether it is accurate would be a bit like relying on a trash bag to serve as a parachute. This has been particularly the case ever since billionaire Elon Musk acquired Twitter, reportedly got rid of large chunks of its fact-checking staff, has been touting a “free speech” say-anything approach, and has tried to sell blue Twitter verification check marks to anyone who would buy them, as I reported for Forbes. Thus, you can’t assume that something is true simply because a Twitter hashtag has been trending:
Otherwise, you’d have to assume that #TrumpWasRightAboutEverything, right? So in order to determine the veracity of this latest claim about Putin’s health, you’ve got to examine the source and determine not only how reliable this source may be from a medical standpoint but also how much actual, concrete evidence the source offers.
So what about this General SVR? How reliable is this sourse? Just because the General says “Yes” does that mean you should say “Yes” too? Well, this certainly isn’t the first claim that the General SVR Telegram channel has made about Putin’s health. For example, in May 2022, the General SVR claimed that Putin had undergone surgery for some type of cancer diagnosis, as economist and author Anders Åslund had tweeted back then:
Wait, hold your Putin horses, did Åslund include the words “appears credible” in his tweet above without really elaborating as to why and without knowing or revealing who General SVR really is? The operator of the General SVR channel is supposedly a former Russian Foreign Intelligence Service official who happens to have access to Putin and his staff with an emphasis on the word “supposedly.” The operator of this channel remains anonymous and unconfirmed, meaning that it could still be anyone ranging from someone in the Kremlin to that barista at your local coffee shop who can never get your latte order quite right to your grandmother who happens to have some free time and an Internet connection.
And just because someone doesn’t look well on a video doesn’t mean that you can assume any type of specific medical diagnosis. Sure there are some very obvious medical problems such as when someone is actively bleeding or someone’s arm just fell off. When the latter happens on a video, you can probably say with a fair amount of certainty, “gee, it looks his arm just fell off,” assuming that David Blaine or some other magician wasn’t involved. However, it’s not possible to establish most other types of diagnoses from afar without conducting a real physical exam and associated tests and actually talking to the patient.
This hasn’t prevented a number of random would-be doctors and would-not-be doctors from trying to diagnose Putin remotely simply by analyzing photos and videos of the Russian leader. They’ve pointed out markings on his hand that could potentially, possibly, perhaps, maybe look like the insertion point for an intravenous (IV) line and situations where his feet and legs supposedly appeared to be shaking such as the following shown by a video from The Sun:
Such speculation has fed to an ongoing toilet bowl swirl of rumors about Putin being very ill, with claims that he is suffering from a variety of ailments ranging from pancreatic cancer to Parkinson’s Disease. It’s been a toilet bowl because to date there hasn’t been much in terms of concrete medical evidence. For example, while a leg and foot shake could perhaps, maybe, potentially, possibly be consistent with a movement disorder, it could also represent a number of other things. For all you know, Putin could have simply been nervous or grooving to a song in his head such as “It’s Raining Men” sung by The Weather Girls, the Diana Ross song “I’m Coming Out”, Erasure’s “A Little Respect”, or perhaps “YMCA” by the Village People.
Similarly, there could be a number of explanations for what may appear to be IV line insertion markings on Putin’s hands. They could be simple injuries. For example, Putin could have been doing jazz hands and accidentally hit a life-sized statue of Elton John, Barbara Streisand, or RuPaul, resulting in some bruising. Even if the markings were from an IV line, there are a number of reasons why he could have gotten an IV line including dehydration from either not consuming enough liquids to consuming too much alcoholic drinks such as vodka sodas.
During an Aspen Institute Security Form several months ago, U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Director William Burns did say that there’s been a lot of rumors about Putin’s health and “as far as we can tell, he’s entirely too healthy,” as you can see in this CNN news segment:
The Kremlin has continued to deny any suggestions that Putin is not well. But you’ve gotta take anything that the Kremlin says about Putin with an ushanka full of salt as well. The words “open” and “transparent” may not be the first words that you think of when you think of Putin’s leadership, especially after he had ordered the brutal invasion of Ukraine earlier this year. Although the Kremlin did admit that Russia was conducting a “special military operation” outside its border when Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, 2022, don’t expect the Kremlin to hold a press conference about any defecation operations that may have occurred outside the borders of a toilet.
This doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to automatically poo-poo all claims about anyone falling down stairs and defecating until you’ve actually seen the poo. You don’t have to always say, “I want the poo and nothing but the poo.” It does mean, however, that you should probably wait until you get confirmation from someone who is not anonymous and is instead a reliable—preferably medical—source before you believe anything said about Putin’s health. Anytime anyone anonymous tells you something, you’ve got to take it with a diaper-full of salt. Listening to an anonymous social media account can be like listening to graffiti on a bathroom stall. And you never know who may be putting something out there about Putin.