Newspaper article International New York Times

Latest Kremlin Mystery: Putin's Whereabouts

Newspaper article International New York Times

Latest Kremlin Mystery: Putin's Whereabouts

Article excerpt

Speculation mounted in Russia as to why President Vladimir V. Putin had not been seen in public in more than a week.

Where's Putin?

It was the question preoccupying Moscow and much of Russia on Friday, as speculation mounted about why President Vladimir V. Putin had not been seen in public for more than a week.

He canceled a trip to Kazakhstan; postponed a treaty signing with representatives from South Ossetia who were reportedly told not to bother to come to Moscow; and, unusually, was absent from a meeting of top officials from the F.S.B., Russia's domestic intelligence service.

The last confirmed public sighting was at a meeting with Prime Minister Matteo Renzi of Italy on March 5 -- though the Kremlin would have citizens think otherwise.

Given that the Kremlin borrows all manner of items from the Soviet playbook these days, there appeared to be an attempt to doctor the president's timetable to show that all was well.

The daily newspaper RBC dug into Mr. Putin's schedule as reported on the usually reliable presidential website, Kremlin.ru. The newspaper reported that a meeting with the governor of the northwestern region of Karelia, depicted as taking place on Wednesday, actually occurred on March 4, when a local website there wrote about it. A meeting with a group of women shown as having occurred on Sunday actually happened on March 6, RBC said.

On Friday, the Kremlin released video and posted a still picture of Mr. Putin meeting with the president of Russia's Supreme Court, but since the video was not live, questions lingered.

The simplest explanation appeared to come from an unidentified government source in Kazakhstan, who apparently did not get the memo, and told Reuters "it looks like he has fallen ill."

Since half of Moscow seemed to be suffering from a particularly devastating strain of flu that knocks people on their backs for days at a time, that seemed the most likely explanation.

But there also appeared to be a certain reluctance to concede that Russia's leader, who cultivates a macho image of being in good health at age 62, might have been felled like a mere mortal. …

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