Within hours of a single unverified Telegram post by a self-identified “Kremlin insider” alleging that Russia’s leader had a “cardiac arrest” the blogosphere and the world’s tabloids went to town reporting with speculative narration and analyzing the impact of the purported medical emergency.

A mid-morning post on the GeneralSVR Telegram channel on Monday claimed that Russia’s President, Vladimir Putin, had suffered a heart attack while eating dinner in his Kremlin apartment on Sunday evening and had to be resuscitated.

The post described in graphic, some might say cinematic details, the alleged incident. It said:

“…members of the security service, who were on duty at the residence, heard noise and sounds of falling coming from the president's bedroom. Two security officers immediately followed into the president's bedroom and saw Putin lying on the floor next to the bed and a table with food and drinks overturned. Probably, when the president fell, he hit the table and dishes and knocked them onto the floor, which caused the noise.”

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It went on: “Putin convulsively arched while lying on the floor, rolling his eyes. The doctors who were on duty at the residence… performed resuscitation, having previously determined that the president was in cardiac arrest… [He] was moved to a specially equipped room in his residence, where the necessary medical equipment for resuscitation had already been installed, practically an intensive care ward equipped with the latest technology.”

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The blogger says that he has repeatedly reported on Putin’s deteriorating health but that this latest incident “…seriously alarmed the president’s inner circle, despite the fact that the attending doctors had already warned that Putin was very ill… several people close to Putin contacted each other by telephone and agreed to hold consultations on Monday regarding possible actions if the president dies in the coming days.”

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The Telegram channel in question is run by someone using the alias “Viktor Mikhailovich,” who is supposedly a former Kremlin insider and who claims to maintain links with Putin’s inner circle.

He has also been one of the main advocates for the notion that the Russian president is suffering from a range of serious medical issues and relies on the use of “body doubles” to cover up the severity of his condition.

By mid-afternoon, several European mainstream media outlets, particularly UK tabloids, were starting to run the story. The Daily Mirror even went as far as including a video that purported to show “an unexplained late-evening dash to the Kremlin… by Putin’s motorcade on Sunday evening.”

By Monday evening Ukrainian time, the story had spread as far as Australia, where it was the headline on the country’s Sky News as well as the US-based Breaking News Network and even India’s Economic Times.

Soon news outlets began to feed off one another, quoting from each other’s reports where they didn’t have first-hand access to the original GeneralSVR post.

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Social media rapidly got in on the act with X (formerly Twitter) and Telegram users relaying and commenting on the reliability and importance of the event with the usual mixture of those who believe and those who disbelieve everything and those who take the news with a dash of humor:

Post on X by “Arturus Rex”

At least one user, tongue-in-cheek, linked the reports of Putin’s cardiac arrest to those President Biden breaking off a press conference saying: “I have to go to the situation room. There’s an issue I need to deal with.”

Coverage in both the mainstream and social media ranged from those who took the news on face value and supported its veracity with reference to earlier reports on Putin’s health issues; although many of these linked articles seemed also to originate from the same Telegram source as the one that sparked this off.

Others, perhaps with an element of wishful thinking, were prepared to believe the reports but covered themselves with the “unverified” or “unconfirmed” caveats.

Much of the mainstream media who did report it appeared to be unready to dismiss it outright. One exception was the Daily Kos news site which, having run the story on Monday afternoon, issued a retraction late on Monday evening which said: “Admin correction: this story, originally titled ‘Putin May Have Suffered a Heart Attack,’ has been retracted for misinformation relying on poor sourcing.”

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The fact that none of the “serious” news outlets picked up on either the original story or the fact that their less reputable colleagues had reacted to it underlines the fact that it may have been false.

However, as one user of X said – “I’ll only believe it’s true when the Kremlin issues a statement that says President Putin is in good health!”

The user may get their wish as the Kremlin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, felt it necessary to issue a statement on Tuesday that rejected speculation about Putin’s health, saying he was fit and well and dismissed talk about the use of body doubles, as an “absurd hoax.”

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