Russian President Vladimir Putin is scheduled to reappear on Monday after an unusually long absence from public view.
Putin has a meeting with Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atambayev in St. Petersburg, and a Kremlin official told AFP that the meeting is still scheduled to take place, the Times of Israel reports.
This meeting comes after Putin canceled several other scheduled events last week, leading to conspiracy theories about where he might be and speculation about his health. Putin was last seen in public at a news conference on March 5.
This week also marks the one-year anniversary of Russia’s annexation of the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea, another event that Putin is unlikely to miss.
Journalists are waiting at the location where Putin is scheduled to reappear for his meeting with Atambayev:
A state-owned Russian news agency on Monday quoted the country’s defence minister as saying Putin ordered 40,000 troops to be on full alert as part of military exercises, Reuters reports.
During the past week, Russian news agencies have been vague about Putin’s whereabouts.
Independent Moscow outlet TV Rain says Putin has been recovering from the flu, but the Kremlin has insisted that he is fine.
“Putin is nothing if not capricious. He enjoys keeping people waiting and guessing, it’s part of a display of the trappings of power,” he said.
“The Kremlin is by no means a stranger to maskirovka, strategic deception, but I see no reason to think this was anything of the sort,” Mark Galeotti, a New York University professor specializing in global affairs and Russian and Slavic studies, told Business Insider by email last week.
Galeotti said Putin’s disappearance has made the Kremlin look clumsy and “attracted attention to Russia, its plans and intentions.”
Putin hasn’t been out of the Kremlin spotlight for more than a day since the early 2000s, when he dropped off the grid after a national tragedy (the sinking of the submarine Kursk in 2000) and in 2002 when terrorists took over a Moscow theatre and more than 100 civilians died. So his lengthy absence is unprecedented in that it has no obvious cause.
Putin is, however, dealing with serious matters.
On February 27, a gunman murdered prominent Russian opposition figure Boris Nemtsov outside the Kremlin‚ and Bremmer said that it is “extremely unlikely he ordered Nemtsov’s killing, but it was clearly an inside job.” He added that dealing with the situation “is surely [Putin’s] top priority.”
There are signs of turmoil in Putin’s inner circle as well.
Two people in Putin’s circle of advisers told Bloomberg that the Russian president is “becoming more critical” of longtime confidant and Rosneft CEO Igor Sechin after the 52-year-old made a series of moves that irked Putin.
And a biographer of Putin told Business Insider that factions within the Kremlin power structure have become visible, it’s likely there will be some power change-ups, and that “fights over the number two position” — aka the position held by Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev — have “exploded!”
This has led to speculation about some sort of coup.
Other rumours include that he is dead, on paternity leave, had cosmetic surgery, or is seriously ill.
It remains to be seen if any of these theories are correct, and it’s possible that we’ll never know the reason behind Putin’s unusual absence.
Michael B. Kelley and Jeremy Bender contributed to this report.
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