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Why Does Vladimir Putin Walk Like That?

No, he hasn't had a stroke, or Parkinson's — but he may be packing.
Image: Vladimir Putin
Russian President Vladimir Putin enters the Alexadrovsky Hall to head a meeting of the Presidential Council for Civil Society and Human Rights at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, on Oct. 1, 2015.Yuri Kochetkov / Pool via AP, file

You may have never noticed it, but Russian President Vladimir Putin walks a little funny.

Now researchers think they know why: It’s most likely KGB weapons training at work.

Neurology professor Bastiaan Bloem of the Radboud University Medical Center in the Netherlands and colleagues had noticed that Putin often walks with his right arm held rigid, while his left arms swings freely.

“We were struck to find several consecutive YouTube recordings of Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, manifesting a clearly reduced right-sided arm swing,” Bloem and colleagues wrote in The BMJ, the British Medical Journal’s online publication which just happens to be running tongue-in-cheek holiday stories this week. (You can see the video here)

Bloem’s a movement disorders specialist and he and some colleagues had briefly wondered if it might be Parkinson’s disease, which can cause stiff movements.

“Searching for possible explanations, we encountered a training manual of the former Russian KGB,” they wrote.

“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.”

Just as Kremlin watchers would pore over photographs during the Cold War days of the Soviet Union to see who was in and out of power, the group looked for other evidence in videos.

They saw the same strange gait in Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, two former defense ministers and a military commander named Anatoly Sidorov.

“We propose that this new gait pattern, which we term ‘gunslinger’s gait,’ may result from a behavioral adaptation, possibly triggered by KGB or other forms of weapons training where trainees are taught to keep their right hand close to the chest while walking, allowing them to quickly draw a gun when faced with a foe,” they concluded.