Vladimir Putin may already be dead as rumours spiral about the Russian leader’s death, MI6 sources say.
They claim that a body double may have been used for the president’s recent appearances, as Kremlin officials would be keen to cover up his death in a bid to cling onto power.
There has been much speculation about Putin’s wellbeing in the last few months, with the 69-year-old’s face appearing bloated and some alleging he his suffering from blood cancer.
Senior MI6 bosses say the world leader has been seriously ill in recent times, but that his death would likely not be made public for some time, the Mirror reports.
Recent media appearances had very probably been pre-recorded, a source said, while speculating that his appearance at the Moscow Victory Day Parade earlier this month could have been a body double.
One intelligence source: “Putin is very ill and when he dies his death will be kept secret for weeks, if not months. There is also the possibility that he is already dead. It’s impossible to know.
“It is believed that Putin has employed body doubles in the past when he has been unwell and the Kremlin could be doing so now.
Speculation has been mounting about Putin’s health
“Putin is the head of a small group of senior officials who are completely loyal to him.
“The real fear (for his cronies) is that once his death is announced there could be a Kremlin coup and Russian generals will want to withdraw from Ukraine.
“Putin’s death will leave them powerless and vulnerable so they have a vested interest in saying that Putin is alive – when the reverse could be true.”
It is widely believed that Putin is taking steroids or receiving cancer treatment which has left him looking puffy-faced.
Two weeks ago, a Russian oligarch with close links to the Kremlin said Putin is “very ill with blood cancer” and had surgery before invading Ukraine.
Ukraine’s head of military intelligence Major General Kyrylo Budanov also claimed Putin is seriously ill with cancer.
Russian affairs expert Fiona Hill, who has met Putin in the past, said he was “not looking so great” and could be taking “high doses of steroids”.
Meanwhile, it has emerged Russian tank losses are so great that the Kremlin is having to deploy a machine called the T-62 which is over 60 years old.