Soviet and Russian leaders: Their illnesses and deaths

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The response to rumours surrounding Russian President Vladimir Putin's health has evoked comparisons with how the ailments and afflictions of previous Kremlin occupants were reported.

Mr Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov has played down concerns about the president's health, saying he suffered a minor sports-related injury but is still able to carry out his duties normally.

Suggestions that Mr Putin was limping, and reports that he had postponed several foreign trips prompted some media to speculate he had suffered an injury during a hang-glider flight last month which was getting worse.

No-one has suggested there is anything more seriously wrong with Mr Putin than back trouble.

The BBC Russian Service has been investigating how Moscow's authorities have dealt with the illnesses of its leaders since 1917, and the deaths of those who died in office.

Vladimir Lenin (1870-1924)

Vladimir Lenin

Died aged 54 after a second stroke. Rumoured to have suffered from syphilis, though there is no proof of that.

He is the only Soviet leader whose state of health was not secret, and medical bulletins were published regularly.

Josef Stalin (1878-1953)

Josef Stalin

Died aged 75 of a stroke. The news of his illness was published only a day before his death, when he was already unconscious. After his stroke he was left alone for a few hours by his staff, who were afraid to disturb him.

The Soviet leadership of the time also did not know what to, since the death of Stalin was considered unthinkable. In the four days between his stroke and death, he received practically no medical attention while Soviet leaders jockeyed for position.

His death was announced on 5 March.

Nikita Khruschev (1894-1971)

Nikita Khruschev, file pic

Died aged 77. Details about his life - and health - were kept out of the public eye after he was removed from his post and replaced by Leonid Brezhnev in 1964.

Krushchev had five heart attacks, the last of which was fatal.

He was not granted a state funeral and, reportedly fearing demonstrations, the Kremlin delayed announcing his death until the last minute, surrounding the cemetery where he was buried with troops.

Pravda dedicated one sentence to the death of the former leader.

Leonid Brezhnev (1906-1982)

Leonid Brezhnev

Died aged 76. The reasons for his death are still unclear, though during his last years he had problems speaking, suffered from occasional memory loss and had problems with co-ordination.

Yuri Andropov (1914-1984)

Yuri Andropov

Died aged 70 of kidney failure. News of his illness was never broadcast.

Konstantin Chernenko (1911-1985)

Konstantin Chernenko

Died aged 74. It is known that he suffered from emphysema and caught pneumonia. News of his illness was never broadcast.

On 10 March he fell into a coma, and later that day died as a result of heart failure. He became the third Soviet leader to die in less than three years.

Boris Yeltsin (1931-2007)

Boris Yeltsin

Died aged 76 in retirement. Apparently he suffered five heart attacks while in office, none of which were reported in the press. He also drank a considerable amount of alcohol.

Given the appearance of a free press in Russia, rumours about Yeltsin's heart condition and alcohol consumption were widely circulated, including the fact that he suffered a heart attack two weeks before elections in 1996.

The press also reported that Mr Yeltsin underwent quintuple heart bypass surgery in November 1996. But those rumours and the surgery were never officially confirmed.

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