Rumours and speculation about Russian dictator Vladimir Putin's health continue to swirl as the war in Ukraine grinds on and Russia gains control of critical territory.
Russian forces have tightened their grip on a key target in a battle for control of Ukraine's eastern Donbas region while President Volodymyr Zelenskiy pleaded for more Western arms.
Zelenskiy told Luxembourg's parliament via videolink overnight that Russian troops now occupied about a fifth of Ukrainian territory, with battle lines now stretching more than 1,000 km.
Russian forces, backed by heavy artillery, control most of the eastern industrial city of Sievierodonetsk - now largely in ruins - after days of fierce fighting in which they have taken losses, Britain's defence ministry said in its daily intelligence report.
Ukraine's armed forces general staff said that besides its assault on the city, Russian troops were also attacking other parts of the east and northeast.
The capture of Sievierodonetsk and its smaller twin Lysychansk would give Russian forces control of all of Luhansk, one of two provinces along with Donetsk in the Donbas claimed by Moscow on behalf of separatists.
Seizing Luhansk would fulfil one of Russian President Vladimir Putin's stated aims and further shift battlefield momentum in Russia's favour after its forces were pushed back from the capital Kyiv and from northern Ukraine.
Moscow's forces were also attempting to advance south towards the Ukraine-held cities of Kramatorsk and Sloviansk, in Donetsk province, provincial governor Pavlo Kyrylenko said.
Kremlin rivals sense 'the end is near' for Putin
As the invasion grinds on to its 100th day on Friday, Putin shows no signs of pulling back despite intense speculation about how long he has left.
US intelligence officials produced their fourth comprehensive assessment of Putin's health at the end of May, according to Newsweek with three intelligence leaders reportedly telling the publication he has emerged after undergoing treatment in April for advanced cancer.
The classified report also reportedly confirmed an assassination attempt on Putin in March.
"Putin's grip is strong but no longer absolute," one official told Newsweek.
"The jockeying inside the Kremlin has never been more intense during his rule, everyone sensing that the end is near."
The three officials used as sources were from the office of the Director of National Intelligence, one from the Defense Intelligence Agency and a retired Air Force senior officer, the publication said.
"Is Putin sick? Absolutely," said the retired Air Force officer.
"But we shouldn't let waiting for his death drive proactive actions on our part. A power vacuum after Putin could be very dangerous for the world."
Associate Professor Matthew Sussex, a Russian political expert from the Australian National University, has previously spoken to Yahoo News Australia about the likely successors in the event of Putin's demise.
"There are a variety of different, competing Kremlin clans," he said. "And he plays divide and rule with them and they're under no illusions that they owe their positions to him."
While he believes the notion that Putin will be assassinated is in the realm of "fan-fiction", he says those waiting in the wings are "as bad or worse than Putin".
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