A team of European neurologists says in a new study that Russian president Vladimir Putin walks with a peculiar “gunslinger’s gait”.
The study, published on Tuesday by the British Medical Journal, notes that Putin has shown a “clearly reduced right-sided arm swing”, possibly related to weapons training he received when he was part of the Soviet KGB.
Citing a KGB training manual they obtained, the researchers suggest that his style of walking is linked to training he underwent in the feared security agency, where he rose to the rank of lieutenant colonel before retiring at the twilight of the Soviet Union.
“According to this manual, KGB operatives were instructed to keep their weapon in their right hand close to their chest and to move forward with one side, usually the left, presumably allowing subjects to draw the gun as quickly as possible when confronted with a foe,” the researchers, based in Portugal, Italy, and the Netherlands, wrote.
To test their hypothesis, the neurologists studied YouTube videos of other Russian officials.
Bastiaan Bloem, a professor of movement disorder neurology at Radboud University Medical Centre in Nijmegen, the Netherlands, who led the study, said his team was “stunned” by what they saw.
They found the same characteristic walk in Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, in former Russian defense minister Anatoly Serdyukov and Sergei Ivanov, and in senior Russian military commander Anatoly Sidorov.
Like Putin, Ivanov is a former KGB officer who served in Europe during the Cold War. Serdyukov and Sidorov both received military training, the researchers claim.
The outlier in this group is Medvedev, a lawyer by training who has no clear ties to the KGB and did not serve in the military, though he is thought to have undergone brief reservist training during his university years.
Since Putin handpicked him to serve as president from 2008-12 – between Putin’s second and third terms – Medvedev’s body language has often resembled that of his mentor, as has the cadence of his speech.
Citing western media reports, the researchers write that “substantial evidence suggests that Medvedev is being coached to sound, look, and importantly, walk like the president.”
The study asserts that Putin’s asymmetrical arm swing is likely “a behavioural adaptation resulting from military or intelligence training.”
Bloem conceded that his researchers do not have access to Putin’s medical records or his doctors. But he said Putin’s unusual walk is the subject of a small but growing debate among medical specialists.
“It is an unusual study, but there is a very serious message to it” about neurological observation, he told AFP in a telephone interview.
Bloem added that Putin’s “abnormal gait has been noted before.”
“What we are putting forward, but very cautiously, is a new hypothesis,” he said.