Falling out of hospital windows
We begin by extending our sympathies to the relatives of Ravil Maganov, Chairman of Lukoil, who it is reported died yesterday at Moscow's Central Clinical Hospital.
He committed suicide, presumably with a cyanide derivative tablet, and then his body was thrown from the roof of the hospital, or from a sixth floor window. We cannot be sure which.
Any politically senior person who dies in hospital in the CIS dies in potentially suspicious circumstances. Everyone in the region knows this.
This tradition commenced not later than Lenin, who was pronounced to have had a stroke by his doctors and then remained notionally in power but his public pronouncements were actually under the control of his doctors, until his doctors murdered him in 1924. He managed to sneak out some of his real thoughts before they killed him; historians have kept alive his pre-death thoughts about Stalin and Trotsky to this day.
Stalin, Lenin's successor as Premier of the Soviet Union, ensured that he murdered his doctors frequently so as to ensure that Lenin's fate would not befall him.
On his personal initiative, showing his fear and hatred of doctors, Stalin ensured there was a 'doctors' trial' that ranked first amongst the twelve Nuremburg war crimes trials of Nazi war criminals at the end of World War II. Stalin's goal in trying the doctors was a little different from what might be imagined: he was overtly threatening any doctors who went along with the idea of murdering him on medical pretexts that he would murder them first. And indeed he tried a lot of his own doctors, and murdered them, before his own demise in 1953.
Anyone who has seen the film 'The Death of Stalin' will understand the circumstances in which Stalin died. His doctors were so afraid of being murdered that they refused to declare him dead or having suffered brain death. In the end they were persuaded all to sign the same piece of paper so as to distribute responsibility.
Stalin himself shot such terror into his doctors, that he so frequently murdered, that in the end he died of a massive pulmonary embolism without prior warning from his doctors who dared not find him unwell. Stalin lived an extremely unhealthy life, smoking, drinking and eating to excess (typically as it was recounted, every single night until dawn) and he died at the age of 72.
Moscow's Central Clinic Hospital, opened on 2 December 1957, was intended by Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev as an objective institution where politicians could go for medical treatment without the relationship of murderer and murdered person hanging over patients and their ostensible carers.
Nevertheless the goal was never really achieved in cultural terms. The paranoia involving doctors remained and remains to the present day.
Although historians could never be certain, it seems that no Soviet leader thereafter died with a doctor at his side until 2000, when Russian President Boris Yeltsin died in the Moscow Central Clinical Hospital. His handcrafted successor Vladimir Putin thereafter smoothly took office.
Perhaps the reader now understands the curiosities surrounding enquiries into Vladimir Putin's health. It is not just an affair of state; lives could turn upon it, those of the doctors and politicians alike.
COVID is a particularly concerning illness for senior Russian politicians to find themselves contracting. Invisible, indistinguishable from several other diseases, the doctors could arrive at any time and declare the President COVID-positive, and they would insist that he comes with them. That would be a one-way ticket to the Moscow Central Clinical Hospital, just as it was this week for Mikhail Gorbachev and Ravil Maganov.
Hence it is no surprise perhaps that Vladimir Putin does not just take steps to avoid himself catching COVID, but steps to avoid that he might even look like he is at risk of catching COVID. Only the most delicate tapdancing keeps him from being found with an infection and a one-way ticket to Moscow Central Clinical Hospital. He is 69, in a country in which men die young. He is eligible for his medical treatment any day now. No wonder he has spent a lot of time posing for photos of him engaging in vigorous sports.
Hence Vladimir Putin remains as the only person in the world who appears never to have contracted COVID. It is not a matter of his physical health, you understand; it is a matter of his political health and hence his straightforward mortality. It might be a way that his enemies use to kill him off, which is why he himself ensures that the beds at Moscow Central Clinical Hospital are never empty.
If, having betrayed him, you are offered a bed there, you really have no choice. Either you accept and die with honour; or you do not and your family will suffer too. Now perhaps you understand why people in CIS countries prefer, no matter what, to die at home and not in hospital. That includes the Russian President, whose view towards doctors is presumably very much the same as that of Joseph Stalin.
As for the profession of medicine in the former Soviet Union, it is best not to rise so high unless one wishes such life and death scenarios to become part of one's career. You will not survive; you will be murdered by convenience or happenstance in the end.
It is preferable that one stays away from the style of medicine practised in the former Soviet Union. It applies every bit as much in Ukraine as in Russia. It will potentially take generations to change. Even then we cannot be certain that this paranoia will easily wash away.