The war in Ukraine has entered into its tenth month, a feat Russia definitely did not expect when tanks rolled over the border in February 2022. A strong Ukrainian fightback has left Russian troops and supplies depleted and deflated.
As the conflict grows into a long-term fight, rumours of Putin’s next steps have swirled. While Russia has attempted to bolster troops with partial mobilisation and other schemes, its been suggested a plan has been hatched that would allow Putin to be evacuated to another country.
Operation ‘Noah’s Ark’ is reported to be a plan in which the Russian leader would be able to flee to South America. It comes amid a series of cancelled appearances and concerns over Putin’s health.
There is also suspicion that Putin will be unable to explain to the Russian people why the conflict is still ongoing and lose his grip on his power over the public.
When Russia invaded Ukraine, it was described as a “special military operation” which would be over in a matter of weeks. But what exactly is Operation Noah’s Ark - and how accurate are reports? Here’s everything you need to know.
What is Operation Noah’s Ark?
The operation to get Putin out of Russia should the war go badly wrong for the nation was reported by Abbas Gallyamov. The political analyst claimed on social media platform Telegram that a Kremlin source said Putin would be evacuated if there was a threat to his position as leader.
Gallyamov, who is also Putin’s former speech writer, wrote: “[Putin’s] entourage has not ruled out that he will lose the war, be stripped of power, and have to urgently evacuate somewhere.”
It is believed that Argentina or Venezuela are being considered as locations Putin could evacuate to. Putin has a strong ally in Igor Sechin, head of the Russian state oil company Rosneft. Sechin in turn has a strong link to Venezuelan president Nicolás Maduro.
Are reports of Operation Noah’s Ark true?
Little is actually known about the validity of Operation Noah’s Ark. Gallyamov is the only person to have spoken about the possibility of Putin fleeing in the worst case scenario, while the Kremlin has not commented.
Kremlin expert Mark Galeotti told The Times that he questioned how Gallyamov was given the information. He also told the newspaper that he may have put his Kremlin source in danger for revealing the claims.
The theory has spread due to Putin’s time out of the limelight in recent months. Pro-Kremlin Russian media has insisted that the leader is too busy with the war in Ukraine to make scheduled appearances or take questions from journalists.
When was Putin last seen in public?
At the beginning of the war, Putin would regularly make television appearances on Russian media and address the Russian public. However, in recent weeks, the Kremlin has cancelled appearances set to be made by the president.
This included an appearance at the G20 summit and even his annual press conference and his “conversation with the people”. The latter is a yearly event in which Putin takes questions and portrays himself as a strong leader.
While unconfirmed, the Russian president also looks poised to skip his state of the nation address to the Kremlin and risks losing a “sense of stability” according to Russian political scientist Yekaterina Schulmann. Dmitry Peskov, Putin’s spokesman, has not given a reason for the cancellations, with rumours rife about his health and possible whereabouts.
He was last seen in public on 9 December, at a meeting of the Eurasian Economic Union in Kyrgyzstan. However during his appearance he confused Donetsk for Crimea while speaking to the media.
There have been questions over his health for months now. A Russian oligrach was recorded in March saying that Putin had “blood cancer” and anti-Kremlin website The Project has claimed that he has been visited by a cancer specalist at least 35 time in the past four years.
The Kremlin has defended its leader. A spokesperson said that Putin has in recent days conducted meetings online and over the phone, including a conversation with Turkish president Recep Tayyip Ergodan.