Posted on Apr 01, 2020
On Monday evening, Russia's state-controlled TV showed President Vladimir Putin holding a video conference with his envoys in the federal districts. Despite the fact that he appeared somewhat sluggish than usual his appearance was necessary in order to show the people that the captain was still at the helm.
Prior to Monday, the Russian president had been conspicuous by his absence.
Russians took to social media to ask "where is Putin?", and conspiracy theories began to spread as fast as a virus - an analogy that may be appropriate in this context.
The fallback theory whenever Putin drops off the radar is cosmetic surgery. Russians like to joke that their current president has had more botox injections than Lenin.
But another theory is circulating: Putin has tested positive for coronavirus.
Putin's "best defence against coronavirus is a Russian flag" approach to the crisis was challenged when he had a wake up call from Moscow's mayo Sergei Sobyanin who told him publicly "The momentum is high and a serious situation is unfolding... The real number of those who are sick is significantly higher than official numbers indicate... The fact is that testing volume is very low, and no one on earth knows the real picture".
He probably understands that well now, having spent time, and having physical contact with, one Denis Protsenko, the chief of Moscow's Kommunarka hospital, last week. Protsenko, who believed that his high degree of exposure to the virus had made him immune, has now tested positive.
Putin has now disappeared, and strange things are happening: the Presidential prerogative to declare a state of emergency has now been devolved to the Duma - the Russian parliament.
Air raid sirens are blaring to remind Muscovites to stay indoors, and police cars circulated elsewhere announcing a curfew by loudspeaker.
At this point the Kremlin-controlled media kicked in: RT (Russia Today) Editor-in-Chief Margarita Simonyan Tweeted, after a five-day absence, denying that a curfew had been imposed and RIA Novosti reported that the police officers involved video were under investigation for abuse of authority.
If Putin is, or is perceived to be, seriously ill, in true Russian style the pack will turn on him. There are no end to the numbers of oligarchs, Generals, and ambitious politicians who would like to take the throne. The greatest danger of all to Putin will come from those closest to him - his hero Stalin is believed to have been killed by his own doctor.
Of those who have been amongst the closest and certainly the most useful to Putin since he first assumed power 20 years ago is Dmitry Medvedev. The former prime minister, president, and then prime minister again has been sidelined since January. Late on Sunday he appeared on TV talking about the potential human cost of the pandemic, and looking extremely nervous.
Is this the long awaited coup? Or is it simply that Putin hates to be the bearer of bad news and that he is taking time out for a facelift while he sets others up to take the fall?
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