Putin’s disappearing act —- and rifts within the Kremlin

Latest and best analyses of Putin’s disappearing act

Vladimir Putin has not made a public appearance since March 5. Several television and news reports which purported to show him meeting with figures this last week have been revealed to be fabrications. The following articles provide some of the best insights into what is or may be going on in the Kremlin. What appears clear is that the assassination of opposition leader Boris Nemtsov on February 27 has provoked some kind of turmoil within the Kremlin’s top leadership.

See:

(1) Edward Lucas, “Where is Putin?” Center for European Policy Analysis (CEPA), March 15, 2015.

(2) Richard Galpin (Moscow), “Speculation rife as world waits for Putin to reappear, BBC News, March 15, 2014 (11:35 ET).

(3) Julian Hans (Moskau), “Rätsel um russischen Präsidenten: Wo ist Putin?”; Seit dem 5. März hat sich Russlands Präsident nicht mehr öffentlich gezeigt. Selbst wenn nur ein Bruchteil von dem wahr wäre, was Kreml-Astrologen, Blogger und Journalisten seither als Gründe für sein Verschwinden erwägen – es müssen dramatische Tage für ihn sein, Süddeutscher Zeitung, 15. März 2015 (17:43 Uhr).

(4) Julia Smirnova (Moskau), “Ramsan Kadyrow: “Ich bleibe Putin treu. Egal, welches Amt er bekleidet”; Ramsan Kadyrows Name fällt derzeit vor allem im Zusammenhang mit dem Mord an Boris Nemzow. Anscheinend ist sich der tschetschenische Präsident nicht mehr ganz sicher, ob er auf Putin zählen kann,” Die Welt, 14. März 2015 .

German: Ramsan Kadyrow
English: Ramzan Kadyrov
Russian: Рамзан Ахматович Кадыров
French: Ramzan Kadyrov
Spanish: Ramzán Kadýrov
Arabic: رمضان قديروف
Chinese: 拉姆赞·卡德罗夫

(5) Andrew E. Kramer, “Fear Envelops Russia After Killing of Putin Critic Boris Nemtsov,” New York Times, February 28, 2015.

Kramer, reporting a day after the assassination of leading opposition figure Boris Nemtsov, made the following succinct observation regarding high-level schisms between hardliners and liberals over military and economic policy.

“This (the assassination) comes as analysts of Russian politics say the Kremlin could be worried about, and intent on discouraging, further defections to the opposition, given reported high-level schisms between hard-liners and liberals over military and economic policy. The government is already under strain from Russia’s unacknowledged involvement in the war in Ukraine and runaway inflation in an economic crisis.”

(6) DPA/OTT, “Wir dachten niemals an die Abspaltung der Krim”; Zum Jahrestag des Krim-Referendums behauptet Kremlchef Putin erneut, Russland hätte keine andere Wahl gehabt. Währenddessen besucht der ukrainische Präsident Poroschenko verletzte Soldaten in Dresden,” Die Welt, 15. März 2015 (17:42 Uhr).

This report is based on a DPA (Deutsche Presse Agentur) dispatch delivered apparently by OTT (Over the Top) streaming technology. Whether the dpa is doing more than relaying on a Russian news agency report is not clear. Putin’s appearance on Russian television in a film does not prove that Putin has “reappeared”. He may soon. This report, however, appears to be a case of careless editorial supervision.

It is the anniversary today of the assassination of Julius Ceasar. Putin may just be playing for dramatic effect. A bronze of him appearing like a Roman was recently unveiled.

On the other hand, it is quite possible that the Boris Nemtsov assassination on February 27, 2014 triggered some kind of internal power struggle, as the first five writers cited above suggest. If there were an attempted Putsch that has been put down, the evidence should appear fairly soon as its authors are dealt with by Putin. If on the other hand, Putin has a major revolt on his hands, e.g., as the reaction of some of the security forces and the army to the potential involvement in the Nemtsov murder of the Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, who has praised one of his security men even after he was identified as a suspect in the homicide, a real power struggle could be on.

Putin may appear tomorrow, March 16, but like his phantom TV appearances of the last 10 days his appearance will probably not tell us much about what has been been or is going on. If he does not appear, speculation about his condition, both physical and political, will explode.

Stay tuned.

The Trenchant Observer

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The Observer
"The Trenchant Observer" is edited and published by The Observer, an international lawyer who has taught International Law, Human Rights, and Comparative Law at major U.S. universities, including Harvard, Brandeis, the University of Pittsburgh, and the University of Kansas. He is a former staff attorney at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights of the Organization of American States (IACHR), where he was in charge of Brazil, Haiti, Mexico and the United States, and also worked on complaints from and reports on other countries including Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Guatemala. As an international development expert, he has worked on Rule of Law, Human Rights, and Judicial Reform in a number of countries in Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, the Middle East, South Asia, and the Russian Federation. In the private sector, The Observer has worked as an international attorney for a leading national law firm and major global companies, on joint ventures and other matters in a number of countries in Europe (including Russia and the Ukraine), throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, and in Australia, Indonesia, Vietnam, China and Japan. The Trenchant Observer blog provides an unfiltered international perspective for news and opinion on current events, in their historical context, drawing on a daily review of leading German, French, Spanish and English newspapers as well as the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, and other American newspapers, and on sources in other countries relevant to issues being analyzed. The Observer speaks fluent English, French, German, Portuguese and Spanish, and also knows other languages. He holds an S.J.D. or Doctor of Juridical Science in International Law from Harvard University, and a Doctor of Law (J.D.) and a Master of the Science of Law (J.S.M.), from Stanford University. As an undergraduate, he received a Bachelor of Arts degree, also from Stanford, where he graduated “With Great Distinction” (summa cum laude) and received the James Birdsall Weter Prize for the best Senior Honors Thesis in History. In addition to having taught as a Lecturer on Law at Harvard Law School, The Observer has been a Visiting Scholar at Harvard University's Center for International Affairs (CFIA). His fellowships include a Stanford Postdoctoral Fellowship in Law and Development, the Rómulo Gallegos Fellowship in International Human Rights awarded by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and a Harvard MacArthur Fellowship in International Peace and Security. Beyond his articles in The Trenchant Observer, he is the author of two books and numerous scholarly articles on subjects of international and comparative law. Currently he is working on a manuscript drawing on the best articles that have appeared in the blog.

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