The Kremlin deliberately spread a rumour that Vladimir Putin had died to assess how popular he is with the Russian people, it has been claimed.
Ukrainian military intelligence spokesman Andrii Yusov has suggested that reports from the Telegram channel General SVR were used as a strategy by Moscow to help gain a tighter grip on domestic affairs.
Yusov said: “In this way, the empire, which is built on the work of the secret services, learns how to continue to rule.”
General SVR has made numerous claims about the Russian despot’s health but the story about Putin’s passing gained so much traction that Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov was forced into a public denial.
Yusov is convinced that it was all part of a plan to gauge the reaction of the Russian population in the event of the tyrant’s death.
He said: “The basic purpose of fake news is to look at how society reacts in terms of numbers and dynamics.
“(The purpose is) to look at the reactions of individuals, the elite and the media.”
Despite the Ukrainian claims, there has been no evidence to link the Kremlin to the Telegram channel.
General SVR has reported on numerous alleged humiliations suffered by Putin – including soiling himself and falling down the stairs – but has distanced itself from Moscow and claims to be authored by a former officer in the Russian intelligence service.
Professor Mark Galeotti, a Russia analyst, feels that this is unlikely to be the case as General SVR’s stories closely match the wild claims made by political scientist Valery Solovey – who has accused Putin of drinking blood and taking up Shamanism.