Vladimir Putin’s address during Russia’s Victory Day commemorations was the focus of widespread speculation in advance – and arguably the most intensely scrutinised since he ordered the invasion of Ukraine.
The Russian leader delivered a more measured speech than expected at the event to mark the country’s role in defeating Nazi Germany, confounding predictions he could officially declare war, announce mass mobilisation of his reserves or issue nuclear threats.
But while the content of his address gave little away as to his intentions for the continuing conflict, his movements and physical appearance were also studied by observers.
Body language expert Judi James told Sky News his actions at the event offered a number of insights.
A beleaguered leader
She suggested video of him sitting with the top of his legs covered by some kind of material – which appeared to many to be a blanket but which she said was more likely a raincoat he had chosen not to wear – projected an image he would have been keen to avoid.
“He looks most similar to the elderly woman sitting next to him – he has adopted a mirror pose to her,” she said.
The image makes him look like a “beleaguered leader who needed a warm blanket over his knees”, she said, and “it didn’t fit with his tough-guy alpha profile”.
Ms James said it would be “very unusual for Putin to make that kind of mistake” and appear weak – and that it was more likely the material was a rain mac and he felt he would “look tougher” by not wearing it.
A swinging left arm and a ‘puffy face’
She said the left side of the president’s face was “puffy” and his walk “unsteady”, adding: “His facial expressions, he almost seems to be not able to control the right side of his face.”
“He has also got a trait and we can see it here,” she said.
“It is more pronounced. Swinging his left arm, but keeping his right arm down by his side. That’s something that I’ve seen him doing for several years now. I remember about four years ago being asked has he had a stroke.”
But she added, “when an alpha is showing a weakness” that is when they are at their “deadliest”.
His facial expressions during his speech suggested he was “fizzing with anger”, she said, particularly when talking about “what the West has done to Russia”.
A visible change when he was on stage
“He might be looking ill, but when he went to make speech, we suddenly saw him getting back,” she said.
“He changed his state considerably. When he stood on stage, he went from being this man who was slightly unsteady with his head down.
“He suddenly looked up, he looked straight into the camera, and that’s when it worried me because when an alpha is beleaguered, when an alpha is showing weakness, it can often be its deadliest.
“Suddenly the the lips started to tighten. We saw a raising of the muscle just under the eye.
“The top lip in particular started to tighten. He started to chew his words as he was speaking. And that’s where we could see a reboot.
“And from this slightly pathetic body language to somebody that is fizzing with anger, there were a lot of anger signals.”