[Editor’s note: “vladimir putin” and “russia” are not capitalized in this article per Ukraine’s official stance to no longer capitalize these words due to the atrocity of putin’s crimes against humanity. Click here for ways to donate to Ukraine relief efforts.]
With russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, some have called for the death of russian president vladimir putin as a means to end the war, from Republican senator Lindsey Graham to Italian newspaper La Stampa. Some have even suggested poisoning putin’s food or drink.
However, putin has long taken preventative steps to safeguard himself from being poisoned. (One might expect nothing less from someone accused of ordering the poisoning of people like russian defector and former KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko, who died after his tea was laced with radioactive material.)
Here are the extreme lengths putin goes to to prevent his food from being poisoned.
It starts with food tasters
Having food tasters make sure that food isn’t poisoned has a long tradition going back millennia. In fact, Roman Emperor Claudius relied on a food tester way back in 54 AD. These testers are more important than ever because chemically detecting poison takes a long time and dying from poison is agonizing. (It took Litvinenko almost a month to die after he was poisoned).
So, it wasn’t much of a surprise in 2014 when the Independent reported that putin had his own full-time food taster. This taster was also part of putin’s security detail, meaning the russian president truly trusted this man with his life.
Historically, putin has hired more food tasters when he felt especially vulnerable. This includes the time in 2018 when he was accused of poisoning double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Britain (according to the Mirror). Now that putin is the most hated man in the world due to his invasion of Ukraine, we can only imagine how many food tasters he’s currently using.
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Specialized chefs oversee putin’s food preparation
In addition to food tasters, putin, like other world leaders, has trusted officials oversee almost every aspect of his food preparation. This is something U.S. presidents do too. As Mashed reports, the White House has specialized chefs that oversee the preparation of the president’s food, whether or not that chef was actually handling the cooking. And according to Insider, Donald Trump’s preference for fast food was due in part to fears that someone on his staff might poison him!
With McDonald’s pulling out of russia, putin doesn’t have the same fast-food options that Trump had as president. But putin still seems fairly confident that his food tasters will keep him safe from the many people who wish to poison him. However, food tasters are historically not as effective as you might think, which is why putin takes additional extreme measures to protect himself.
Food tasters are not as effective as you might think
Is putin’s confidence in his food tasters misplaced? Historically, food tasters haven’t been very effective when it comes to determining if something is safe to eat.
That’s because most poisons take a while before they take effect. Remember when we mentioned how it took almost a month for Alexander Litvinenko to die after drinking poisoned tea? Needless to say, having someone else sip the tea a few minutes before he did would not have been enough to keep Litvinenko alive.
With that in mind, why do putin and other leaders still have food tasters? According to Smithsonian Magazine, a food taster is basically a “placebo” to help the leader feel better rather than an effective way of keeping the leader alive. The imagined security of a food taster might be compared to the way a small child would cling to a security blanket!
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He has an elite security team called the Musketeers
With food tasters not being 100% effective, and with possible threats from every direction, it’s no surprise that putin has hired some absolutely next-level bodyguards.
According to The New York Post, putin’s guards are known as the “Musketeers.” They speak multiple languages and have unique abilities above and beyond a standard soldier. They also have the very best toys, including Kevlar umbrellas, bulletproof briefcases, and jammers that can prevent remote detonation. Between the security force, the gear, and putin’s general isolationism, the russian leader seems fairly safe.
As for the Musketeers, this isn’t exactly a role anyone retires from. When one of the Musketeers hits 35 years of age, they are traded out for a younger model. It’s fair to say many russian citizens wish they could trade out the 69-year-old putin for a younger and more compassionate leader!
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