Vladimir Putin remains missing, and no one is sure what’s going on

There’s been an empty seat at the head of the table.
There’s been an empty seat at the head of the table.
Image: Reuters/RIA Novosti
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President Vladimir Putin’s absence from the public eye has become a Russian national obsession, with facts, rumors and analysis cross-pollinating by the minute.

Here’s what everyone knows. (Or what everyone thinks they know.) Putin has not been seen in public or on camera since March 5, when he met with Italian Premier Matteo Renzi. On March 11, Putin’s meeting with a presidential delegation from South Ossetia was canceled after the delegation had already arrived in Moscow. Putin’s trip to Kazakhstan was also canceled. No reasons were given by the Russian side, but when contacted, the government in Kazakhstan cited the Russian president’s health.

Everything else is hazy at best. The Kremlin declines to clarify the president’s absence. Opposition radio station Ekho Moskvy—the station to which opposition leader Boris Nemtsov gave his last interview two hours before being shot outside the Kremlin on Feb. 27—has, however, contacted the Kremlin’s Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov.

Peskov’s answers, essentially, have been that Putin’s health is fine, that he’s a very busy man, that he’s doing a lot of paperwork right now, and that all his meetings can’t be public. Sunday  was the first anniversary of the Crimean annexation, and to celebrate it, a special documentary film was aired on national television. According to Peskov, President Putin planned to watch the film on Sunday evening.

Understandably, there’s some skepticism. Putin’s former advisor, and now political commentator, Andrey Illarionov says a coup is underway and Putin has been detained. Other Russia watchers are chiming in too. Anders Aslund of the Peterson Institute for International Economics had this to say on Twitter.

At any rate, Putin’s next public appearance is supposed to take place today when he is set to meet with the president of Kyrgyzstan in St. Petersburg. We will find out more soon, either way.

They don’t call it Kremlinology for nothing.