Where is Vladimir Putin?
RUSSIA’S internet is abuzz with rumour: President Vladimir Putin has not been seen for eight days. Heart attack? Cancer? Is their controversial leader actually dead?
His press secretary Dmitry Peskov asserts: “There is no reason to worry … everything is fine”.
But it seems official statements out of the Kremlin carry little currency.
“Putin Umer” (Putin is dead) is the trending search subject across Russia. #PutinIsDead is exploding across Twitter.
Blogs have been posting serious claims: One says it has had contact from a source inside a Moscow hospital saying Putin has suffered a stroke.
Others reject this, saying instead the actual problem is advanced cancer.
Rumourmongering aside, many Russians are embracing the idea. For fun.
Speculation ranges from bare-chested state funerals to speculation over whether or not the notoriously tardy president will make it to the pearly gates on time.
Such morbid chatter is not being helped by the Kremlin.
On March 11, Kremlin officials issued photographs of the President attending a meeting with the head of the Republic of Karelia, claiming the photos were taken that day.
Later, it was discovered that meeting had actually taken place a week earlier.
Official Moscow mouthpieces such as ITAR-TASS and RT have been continuing to report as though Putin was still very much in the public spotlight:
Putin’s press office is pushing the line that their leader is perfectly healthy.
Peskov’s message is: He’s fine, he’s busy, and he’s still “crushing fingers” with his handshake.
This statement is being seen by some observers as coded evidence the President is unwell. The Moscow Times reports that whenever Boris Yeltsin – president of post-Soviet Russia in the 1990s — became ill, his spokesman asserted “his handshake was firm” and that he was “working with documents.”
“As soon as the sun comes out in the spring, as soon as it starts to smell of springtime, people get feverish,” Peskov explained. “Someone dreams up Sechin stepping down, others invent a big ministerial resignation, and some people start thinking they haven’t seen Putin on TV in several days.”
But the press office went on to say Putin would miss a meeting with the head of the FSB — the new name for the old Soviet KGB spy agency.
And the number of cancelled meetings keeps mounting. Putin’s office yesterday cancelled a scheduled visit to Kazakhstan. A Kazakh government official told Reuters: “It looks like he (Putin) has fallen ill.”
A Kremlin press release announcing this visit has simply been deleted, though it can still be found in Google Cache.
Putin also was expected to be joined by the President of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko, tonight, for talks.
The intensity of the rumours surged early yesterday when news blog Russkiy Monitor claimed it has been contacted by an anonymous source inside the elite Moscow Central Clinical Hospital. The source reportedly claimed that the controversial leader had been diagnosed with ischemic stroke — a blood clot which has lodged in an artery. It is usually associated with high cholesterol levels and heart disease.
The charismatic Russian Presidnet was last seen with a group of women at the Kremlin on March 8, celebrating International Women’s Day.
His last meeting with media was March 5 at a press conference with Italian Prime Minister Mattero Renzi.
But amid the humour is a real sense of fear.
Moscow residents have been posting footage and photos of “unusual” military helicopter activity around the city’s central halls of power.
Moscow’s Ukrainian enemies have seized on such speculation:
Putin, ever a master player on the world stage, remains silent.
Which is unusual in itself.