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Friday, January 08, 2016


by Bill Petz

George W. Bush infamously claimed to have looked into Russian President Vladimir Putin’s eyes and gotten a “sense of his soul,” but perhaps he would have learned more by watching him walk. A recent paper in the British Medical Journal takes up the unexpected question of why Putin, as well as several of his subordinates, walk with an unusual gait, swinging the left arm normally but keeping the right arm close to the hip. Bastiaan R. Bloem, a neurologist at Radboud University Nijmegen Medical Centre in the Netherlands, says he was first tipped off to the strange gait by one of his former instructors, who noticed it in a video of the Russian president. For Bloem and his co-authors (all “movement disorder enthusiasts,” as he puts it), the video, and others in which Putin walks the same way, set off alarm bells since “unilaterally reduced arm swing” can be a sign of several neurological disorders, including Parkinson’s disease. . . . Videos of other senior Russian officials show the same unusual gait, including Prime Minister (and former president) Dmitry Medvedev, former defense minister Anatoly Serdyukov, and current chief of the presidential administration Sergei Ivanov. “The first thing that came to mind is, ‘What the heck? Is there a Parkinson’s epidemic in the Kremlin?’ ” says Bloem. Another possible explanation surfaced when one of Bloem’s colleagues found a KGB training manual, which instructs operatives that “[w]hen moving, it is absolutely necessary to keep your weapon against the chest or in the right hand. Moving forward should be done with one side, usually the left, turned somewhat in the direction of movement.” The authors have called the ex-KBG agent’s John Wayne–esque walk a “gunslinger’s gait.” This doesn’t mean, literally, that the president is packing. Putin probably never did much gunslinging in the KGB, where his job was to recruit potential operatives in East Germany, but the walk may be a tough-guy affectation akin to his often-coarse choice of language. “Putin is a macho leader who kept his gait to show that he is a KGB veteran,” Bloem says. --Slate, Dec. 15, 2015

Look at Putin's walk.
Right arm doesn't swing,
left does the usual thing.
Seems kinda awkward.

Dutch neurologists took a look.
Nothing new they say,
just a gunslinger's way.
It's in the KGB training book.

Faster to go for their guns.
It might just be,
but let's wait and see
if it's not Parkinson’s.

A loss of control,
dementia and depression
explain his aggression,
lack of soul.

Diagnosed with Parkinson's 10 years ago, Bill Petz' right arm doesn't swing without meds. He lives and writes in the mountains of western North Carolina. His work has been published in Status Hat, The Ashevillle Citizen-Times, The Chronicles of Higher Education, Artists & Writers Quarterly and TheNewVerse.News.