Where Is Vladimir Putin?

Where Is Vladimir Putin?

For over a week, Russian president Vladimir Putin has not been seen. And the Kremlin has been tight-lipped as to where he is, which is fueling rumors about what may or may not be happening behind the scenes of the Russian government.

Vladimir Putin at the Kremlin, in a meeting on March 4, 2015, one of the last times he was seen recently (photo credit: Reuters)
Vladimir Putin at the Kremlin, in a meeting on March 4, 2015, one of the last times he was seen recently (photo credit: Reuters)
There is no information at the moment about what Putin is up to, and the only confirmed fact is that the Kremlin has told journalists to not leave town over the weekend, as a “major announcement” is being prepared.

Of course, a “major announcement” could mean anything.

One of the predominant rumors is that Putin’s alleged girlfriend, former Olympic gold medal gymnast Alina Kabayeva, has given birth to his child secretly in Switzerland. Putin announced his divorce from his wife of nearly 30 years, Lyudmila, back in June 2013. There has been no official confirmation of Kabayeva’s role in Putin’s life, though their relationship is apparently public enough that many Russians consider her an “undeclared” First Lady, according to the Daily Mail. However, Putin doesn’t seem the type to take paternity leave.

There are other, more sinister, rumors. Since the assassination of Boris Nemstov, Putin has allegedly come under heavy scrutiny from other opposing voices within the Kremlin. Nemstov was a leading and public critic of Putin, especially over his aggressions in Crimea and Ukraine, and even if Putin had nothing to do with the assassination (highly unlikely, but still unknown), the public backlash has pointed the finger directly at him. The peace march that Nemstov had been planning turned into a memorial march with a strong anti-Putin undercurrent running through it, and it was so well-covered by international press that there was little Putin could do to counteract the march. Has his KGB-like tactic of silencing critics finally caught up to him? Who knows?

But who would take over if Putin is not there? Tom Nichols, writing for Business Insider, has some theories as to what will happen next.

If Putin dies, there is a clear short-term procedure: the Russian Prime Minister becomes Acting President. There is no Russian vice-president; when Yeltsin’s veep led a coup against him, that job was flushed out of the Russian political system in the 1993 rewrite of the constitution.

(Prime Minister) Medvedev is a known quantity, he’s held the job, and he’s not unpopular. He’s also well-known in the West. (He’s the guy to whom President Obama made his infamous “flexibility” gaffe.) It’s hard to imagine who else steps up, but a lot depends on how long Putin has been ill. If this is a sudden crisis like a stroke, then there’s a lot of deal-making going on right now, including arrangements for immunity, movement of money, and a general exchange of promises about who’s not going to prosecute whom.

The default in this case will likely be Medvedev, who was definitely pushed down the ladder when Putin returned to power, but who, as Prime Minister and a former president, knows where a lot of bodies are buried and who is owed more than a few favors.

However, Medvedev is not a popular man within Russia, and many critics of Putin, including chess master Garry Kasparov, see this as a potential chance for real change.

I have long had an interest in Russian history, particularly surrounding the end of the Romanov dynasty and the rise of Lenin. The Romanovs ruled the Russian Empire as autocrats and absolute monarchs for 300 years. The attempt to create a populist government after Nicholas II abdicated was swept away within months as Lenin mobilized the Bolshevik apparatus that had been in motion in exile for years and took power. Lenin, followed by Stalin, Khrushchev, Brezhnev and Gorbachev, held the Soviet Union from 1917 to 1991. In the 24 years since the end of the Soviet Union, the Russian Federation has only had three leaders – Boris Yeltsin, Vladimir Putin, and Dmitry Medvedev. And Medvedev was shoved out of his role when Putin decided that he wanted it back. Has Medvedev managed to turn the tables?

The Russian people have never broken their cycle of tsars – be they ones who were born to the role, took the role and then appointed others to follow them, or got elected and then refused to give up power. But after 400 years of rule by one dictator or another, I believe, like Kasparov, that they deserve the chance to try.

In the meantime, we wait and see what the Kremlin will reveal – and if Putin himself will emerge from the swirl of rumor and alleged government infighting. If he does not, then all bets are off in Russia.

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