VLADIMIR Putin suddenly cancelled a trip to tank factory at the last minute – further fuelling speculation he is either in hiding or sick.
Mad Vlad abruptly axed the visit even as all the security was in place and his limo had been moved to the town of Nizhny Tagil along with his entourage.
No reason has yet been given for the visit – but it comes after he cancelled his state-of-the-nation address, his annual hockey game and his end of year press conference.
Snow had been cleared on streets for the first time this winter ahead of the visit by Putin.
Locals said Vlad was due to oversee boosted tank production for his vicious war in Ukraine.
Urals media outlet E1 said three sources had confirmed his sudden last minute cancellation.
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Putin had been expected to fly to regional capital Yekaterinburg before visiting industrial Nizhny Tagil.
The abrupt cancellation is fueling speculation over his health problems, perceived security threats and his efforts to dodge scrutiny over the war.
The town had been “preparing for days” for Putin.
Vlad is believed to thought he could have rolled over Ukraine in days – but has ended up with a long, bloody slog in the trenches.
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Russia's advances have been thrown back by a valiant effort from the heroic Ukrainians, who are backed with support from the West.
And now the 70-year-old's future is believed to be tied to his invasion's success or failure.
Putin has been warned he could face an internal uprising unless he manages to achieve something in Ukraine.
It follows claims by senior Ukrainian figures that Putin fears he will be killed if he loses the war in Ukraine, and so is "fighting for his life".
And secret Russian spy documents revealed by The Sun Online showed fears for Vlad's health.
Putin's condition has been subject of feverish speculation – with him appearing twitchy, unsteady on his feet, and out of breath on occasion.
It has been suggested he could be suffering from stomach cancer – or maybe even Parkinson's.
Mad Vlad was seen clutching a thick blanket earlier this year while watching a parade, and last week was seen swaying and slurring as he spoke with a glass of champagne.
Security was high at Moscow airports with flights to the Urals seemingly linked to his trip.
His fleet of presidential Aurus cars was seen being readied to be moved out of Yekaterinburg, said observers.
The vehicles had been earlier brought to the city for the expected Nizhny Tagil visit, it was claimed.
The plant – which is now using prison labour to boost production of tanks and flamethrowers – was told at noon that Putin had cancelled.
One report said: “The roads along the president's proposed route were cleaned [of snow] down to the asphalt.
“Learner drivers were banned from the streets and even the opening of the Christmas tree in the Dzerzhinsky district was cancelled, where, as planned, the Uralvagonzavod workshops would be inspected by [Putin].”
Earlier E1 quoted a local: “They are cleaning up and even taking the snow away, something incredible.
“This morning I drove past the [tank plant] — they even cleaned everything on the curbs, the snow is being removed from lawns.”
The outlet reported “unprecedented security measures” in the city ahead of the expected Putin visit.
“Precinct officers will check everyone who has a weapon registered to them, this will be the biggest focus.
“Special attention is paid to former snipers and sappers, those who dealt with explosives, as well as natives of Ukraine.
“They will look at whether they have weapons and in what condition, where they work and with whom they live, an at their psychological state.
“They will also come with an inspection to residents whose windows overlook the intended route of the motorcade.”
Two months ago Putin ally Dmitry Medvedev visited the plant and “shouted at the plant’s executive director Vladimir Roshchupkin” threatening a criminal case unless tank production was boosted for the war, it was reported.
A month later local convicted criminals were put to work in the plant.
Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu had been to plant in August in a forlorn bid to raise production.
Yesterday Putin was on his feet for 49 minutes taking questions from approved journalists, suggesting no health problems at a time his officials have been hit by flu.
Rumours abound that Putin is suffering from cancer and other serious medical conditions.
Presidential press secretary Dmitry Peskov told Podyom that the Putin trip had not been announced as an event planned in his schedule, so “it should not have been expected”.
However this was contradicted by local officials who clearly expected it.
Putin had foolishly expected to steamroller Ukraine and for his soldiers to be welcomed as "liberators" – but they have faced a fierce fightback.
Cities and regions seized at the start of the war at the end of February are now being retaken by the Ukrainians.
The West is heavily supporting Kyiv – loading them up with the weapons they need to defeat Russia.
The recent advances by Ukraine now opens the gateway to Crimea, the territory illegally seized by Russia in 2014.
And the return of the peninsula to Ukrainian hands would be an unprecedented failure for Putin.
Meanwhile, Ukrainian president Volodmyr Zelensky received a hero's welcome on a visit to Washington DC – sitting down with Joe Biden to agree a deal for some £1.5billion of weapons.
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Putin also suffered further humiliation as more than 100,000 of his soldiers are believed to have died on the battlefields of Ukraine.
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