The last time Putin went missing he reemerged with a seemingly less wrinkled face

In 2010, Russian President Vladimir Putin went missing briefly. As is the case with his disappearance now, conspiracy theorists took full advantage of the knowledge gap to peddle their wares.

On his reemergence a few days later, however, something had indeed appear to have changed: his face. During his usual press rounds Putin’s face appeared puffier than usual and despite heavy makeup used to disguise it, almost all the media present during his press appearances reported that he was sporting a black eye.

This immediately started rumours that the Russian leader had undergone cosmetic surgery, sparking the hashtag #Ботокс (#botox) across Russian social media.

Here’s the transformation in pictures:

The president’s spokespeople denied the allegations, saying that the supposed black eye was merely the result of unfortunate lighting and Putin’s heavy travel schedule causing him to seem tired. The denials seemed farcical to most observers but clearly the Kremlin has decided that even a minor accident would not be allowed to dent the carefully honed strongman image of the Russian leader.

To underline that message, three days later Putin allowed photographers to accompany him on an expedition to Ubsunur Hollow Biosphere Preserve to inspect the habitat of the endangered snow leopard. This time there was no mistake with the lighting as he sported a pair of out-sized sunglasses at all times:

Nevertheless, the rumour-mill was fed even further after an appearance by Putin in the audience of a Russian TV comedy show during which he appeared to struggle to contort his face into a smile.

Of course, given the uncertainty that his absence is causing it seems highly unlikely that the figurehead of the Russian state would disappear for such minor reasons. Yet the jocular rumours carry with them a serious message — in the absence of any official explanation for his disappearances even the most outlandish can get airplay. And these are not helpful to the image that Russia presents abroad.

The botox theory perfectly sends up this culture of needless secrecy. If Putin does appear today at the Konstantinovsky palace as scheduled he should be put on the stop to explain his disappearance. Refusing to do so once again leaves the conspiracy nuts and comics all the material they need.

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