Putin Is 'Seriously Ill,' Looks Like a Hamster: Journalist

John Sweeney, a prominent British investigative journalist who has long covered Russian President Vladimir Putin, wrote in his new book that he feels the leader looks "seriously ill" with puffy cheeks that make him resemble a hamster.

In his forthcoming book (out July 21), Killer in the Kremlin, Sweeney described changes he has noticed in Putin's demeanor and physical appearance that he said scare him. He theorized the use of steroids for Putin's changes, noting the president could have started taking the medication years ago to treat a back injury sustained after falling off a horse. According to Sweeney, this could have led to a pattern of steroid abuse, which can cause a litany of health problems, such as major organ damage and tumors.

Rumors about Putin's health have been swirling for several months. Some people have cited videos of the Russian president appearing shaky or tense as evidence that he might have Parkinson's disease, even though some medical experts have disputed such talk. In April, an investigative report from Proekt Media claimed Putin was accompanied by doctors—including a thyroid cancer surgeon—on trips from 2016 to 2019. The report also said Putin may have undergone surgery several years ago, but it did not directly say whether he was diagnosed with cancer or any other illness.

In his book, Sweeney said steroid poisoning may be afflicting Putin.

"Is it possible that Vlad the Poisoner could have ended up poisoning himself? It is," Sweeney wrote. "He is not a well man. And that raises a question. Would Vladimir Putin, knowing that he has not long to live, kill us all?"

Putin sits in a meeting
Russian President Vladimir Putin may have made himself sick from steroid abuse, according to journalist John Sweeney. In this photo, Putin is seen during a meeting in Moscow on July 5. Photo by MIKHAIL KLIMENTYEV/SPUTNIK/AFP via Getty Images

Sweeney described witnessing steroid abuse before in the case of a British gangster who took so much that he eventually "died when his own heart blew apart." The "hyperaggressive" nature displayed by Putin in recent months reminded the writer of the gangster's "roid rage."

Recalling a time when he encountered Putin in person while reporting for the BBC in 2014, Sweeney said the leader at that time appeared "subtle, supple" and spoke "calmly" with him. But while the Putin of years ago "looked like a ferret or a reptile, thinfaced, lean," the Putin of 2022 "looks like a hamster, his cheeks stuffed, unhealthy."

Could Putin, who has long been accused of ordering the poisoning of critics of his administration, have unintentionally poisoned himself? Sweeney said it's plausible.

"And such a fate would be both grimly ironic and funny ha-ha so long as the Kremlin Patient does not have control of the world's biggest arsenal of nuclear weapons, however rusty they may be. But he does," he wrote.

Newsweek reached out to the Russian foreign ministry for comment.