Where is Mr. Putin? What we know about the health of the President

Meduza
15:49, 12 march 2015

Photo: Alexei Druzhinin / Russian presidential press service / TASS / Vida Press

Rumors are swirling in Russia this week that Vladimir Putin is ill, and possibly on his last leg. In an interview with Echo of Moscow on March 12, Dmitry Peskov, the President’s spokesman, dismissed this speculation as ludicrous, which of course has only given new life to “#PutinIsDead,” a macabre meme currently burning up the Russian Internet.

Why is “#PutinIsDead” an Internet phenomenon?

Putin’s critics online have embraced the rumors about his illness, spreading the Twitter hashtag #ПутинУмер (“#PutinIsDead”). The phrase has even catapulted to the top Google search suggestion, when typing Putin’s surname in Cyrillic.

Given Russia’s weak political institutions and its heavy reliance on strong political leaders (some might call it a dependence on “personality cults”), Vladimir Putin’s wellbeing is singularly important to the nation. When Putin does leave the Kremlin, there is little doubt that Russia will change profoundly.

Who started the rumor that Vladimir Putin is sick?

Talk about Putin’s health picked up on March 11, following a report by Reuters citing an anonymous Kazakh government official, who said a visit to Astana was canceled because Putin “looks to have fallen ill.” The meeting, announced on the Kremlin’s website on March 9, was supposed to take place on March 12 and 13. Curiously, Russian officials deleted the announcement about this meeting from the Kremlin’s web page, though a copy can be found in Google Cache.

Meanwhile, the Russian news website Russky Monitor has been crippled by a DDoS-attack, ever since publishing a report from anonymous sources allegedly at a Moscow hospital, who claim Putin was admitted after suffering a stroke (specifically, a cerebral infarction). Internet users, without any apparent evidence, accuse the FSB of orchestrating the DDoS-attack.

When was the last time Putin appeared before the press?

Though he joined a group of women at the Kremlin to celebrate International Women’s Day on March 8, the last time Putin appeared before reporters was on March 5, alongside Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi.

On March 11, the Kremlin posted a transcript and photographs from Putin’s meeting with Alexander Khudilaynen, head of the Republic of Karelia, saying the conversation took place on March 11. A local business newspaper in Karelia, however, reported this meeting on March 5. Khudilaynen spent all day on March 11 in Petrozavodsk, 640 miles from Moscow, the newspaper says.

What did Putin's spokesman say exactly?

Dmitry Peskov assures the nation that Putin is healthy, busy at work, and still “crushing fingers” with his handshake. Despite this, he said the President will miss an annual meeting on March 12 with top officers at the FSB, the Russian successor to the Soviet KGB, only fueling the flames of “#PutinIsDead” gossip.

“As soon as the sun comes out in the spring, as soon as it starts to smell of springtime, people get feverish," Peskov explained. "Someone dreams up [Rosneft CEO Igor] Sechin stepping down, others invent a big ministerial resignation, and some people start thinking they haven’t seen Putin on TV in several days."