NEW footage reveals how Vladimir Putin is flanked by bodyguards on high alert – even when he’s among “trusted” friends.
The ageing despot, 71, appears to be deeply fearful he could be assassinated before he stands for re-election as his bloody war in Ukraine drags towards its second year.
As Putin attended a recent meeting with supporters in Moscow, a bodyguard carrying an armoured shield stood ready to rush onto the stage and protect him.
The man – dressed in all black – is seen holding a briefcase which unfolds into the bulletproof shield.
Putin was addressing some 550 “trusted” backers who will speak for him during his election campaign.
Even among friends, his security was evidently nervous, especially at the moment members of the audience got up to speak.
“An FSO [Federal Protective Service] officer was preparing to cover Putin with an armoured shield at a specially guarded and checked meeting between him and his ‘trusted persons’,” reported Telegram channel VChK-OGPU, which has links with Russian law enforcement.
The group included a mismatch of prominent business and cultural figures as well as academics and journalists.
The channel said: “All of them underwent standard quarantine, loyalty checks, as well as the deepest [vetting] from the security service, a thorough search.
“But, despite the ‘trust’…VChK-OGPU noticed an FSO employee with an armoured briefcase.”
The briefcase folds out instantly into a bulletproof shield which can be held in front of the target of assassination.
The channel noted how when Putin spoke, the briefcase-holding bodyguard didn’t move.
“But as the ‘trusted persons’ began to stand up and ask questions, the guard moved towards the chief….ready at any moment to rush in and protect Putin,” it said.
Putin is running for re-election in the rubber-stamp elections in March that are all but certain to result in the despot securing a fifth term – which could see him kept in power until at least 2030.
The election process is seen as heavily rigged, with all candidates pre-approved by Putin.
Insider reports suggest the Kremlin has already decreed that Putin will obtain 80 per cent of the vote.
Most independent opposition politicians have been jailed or forced into exile, including Putin’s most famous critic – Alexei Navalny, 47, who is rotting inside an Arctic jail.
The opposition leader is facing almost three decades behind bars over trumped charges of “treason”.
The UK is also said to be “deeply concerned” about the fate of a British-Russian citizen and Putin opponent Vladimir Kara-Murza, 42, who worked as an opposition politician in Moscow.
He was sentenced to 25 years last April after publicly opposing Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.
This week, the Brit described how he was moved to a hellish new Siberian prison and placed in solitary confinement for the small infraction of not standing up fast enough.
FOR years now, Putin has been the target of feverish speculation and rumours regarding both his declining health and possible use of body doubles he uses to hide from the public.
But as his devastating war in Ukraine grinds on into its second anniversary – the tyrant appears to be further isolating himself and hiding from public view by relying on doppelgangers as rumours of his ill health run rampant.
In December, the Russian president left many scratching their heads as he refused to stand within 70ft of Britain’s new ambassador to Moscow for “sanitary reasons” at a diplomatic ceremony.
In a similar scene at the peak of the Covid pandemic, Putin was pictured standing metres away from other officials.
A bombshell report, released in December, argued that Putin does use body doubles and also locks his staff away inside a quarantined “clean zones” for months on end.
And only this week, the Russian tyrant, 71, was pictured looking particularly mad-eyed in a meeting with Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko.
Adding flames to the rumours of his declining health, a puffy-faced Putin displayed a surprising array of bizarre faces that led observes to question his current state of health.
He was recently spotted looking so sick and bloated that even his pals said they no longer recognised him.
Earlier this month, a Russian dissident revealed to The Sun how deeply paranoid Putin is of assassination, even from within his inner circle.
Ilya Ponomarev, a former Russian MP who now helps lead armed Russian resistance, stated that the dictator is trapped inside a “spider’s web” of his own making..