Vladimir Putin may have a reputation for strong-arming world leaders, but speculation is rife over the Russian president’s appearance in Iran with a seemingly listless limb.
Journalists and social media users are making much of how Putin held his right arm during a visit to Tehran on Tuesday, when he met his Turkish and Iranian counterparts, Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Ebrahim Raisi, as well as Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Alongside a video of Putin getting off his plane to meet a delegation at Mehrabad airport, Middle Eastern Eye journalist Ragip Soylu tweeted: “There is something wrong with Putin’s walk.” He added in a follow-up message: “Also right arm doesn’t move. Curious footage.”
The clip prompted other social media users to offer a flurry of armchair diagnoses about Putin’s condition.
“Evidently his right arm takes 50s to wind up then it works,” joked one user, likening the Russian leader to an action figure. In a follow-up post, the user wrote that it was probably “just stiffness after sitting in a plane for a few hours.”
Mykhailo Golub tweeted: “Now not only does Putin’s arm but also his leg does not move properly.”
Another Twitter user, GReg HaRdee, said the clip showed “clearly some kind of mobility/coordination issue. He clearly favors one side.” He added that Putin “only moves his left arm,” which is “strange for a right-hander.”
Other social media users mentioned one popular theory about the Russian president’s “gunslinger’s gait,” which has been the subject of speculation for years.
Security expert Ivana Stradner tweeted that Putin’s right arm usually did not move, linking this to his time in Russian intelligence in which “one arm is always close to a gun.”
“Obviously, it’s difficult to get rid of strange habits,” Stradner said.
This was also the theory posited by TRT journalist Ali Mustafa, who said the “stoic right arm is linked to his KGB training intended to keep an agent’s ‘gun arm’ close to his holster, ready to draw a weapon at a moment’s notice.”
A number of media outlets inferred from the footage that Putin was unsteady on his feet, adding to rumors about his health that have been building since he invaded Ukraine on February 24.
Despite reports claiming that Putin has cancer, Parkinson’s disease or both, there is no evidence that he is ill and the Kremlin has repeatedly stated that the Russian leader is in good health.
The notion that Putin has Parkinson’s dates back several years and was investigated in a 2015 study by neurologists. This study, which was published in the BMJ medical journal, also backed the theory that Putin’s unconventional gait stemmed from his KGB training.
Although the study is seven years old, the scientists said Putin had “excellent motor skills,” and pointed out that a reduced arm swing explained by security services training had also been seen in other former KGB officers and military commanders.