Putin’s disappearance implies a Russian dictatorship

Russian President Vladimir Putin has gone missing from public view without any explanation and Russians are wondering why.

Berlin:  Russian President Vladimir Putin has disappeared. Well, not literally, but he hasn’t been seen in public for a full week and reports about his schedule on the presidential website seem suspect. The Kremlin denies that he is ill, and the Russian blogosphere is abuzz with speculation.

It’s still impossible for an outsider to tell where Putin is, or what he’s up to. But it isn’t too early to draw conclusions from this episode. It offers evidence enough that Russia has become an outright dictatorship. No other kind of state would be so opaque, nor its citizens so preoccupied with their ruler.

Putin’s predecessor, Boris Yeltsin, was prone to disappearances: He liked to drink and had a weak heart. Yeltsin’s health became a particularly serious issue before the 1996 presidential election, in which he competed against a strong Communist candidate. Not long before the vote, he suffered a heart attack that his aides hid from voters. After he won, Kremlin spin doctors became increasingly creative in answering any questions about the president’s health. On August 19, 1996, presidential spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembsky initiated a meme when he said in response to such a query that Yeltsin’s handshake was strong.

On Thursday, an Ekho Moskvy radio reporter evoked it in an interview with Putin’s spokesman Dmitri Peskov, asking him about the president’s handshake. “It breaks hands,” Peskov replied sarcastically.

Peskov has never previously had to account for unexpected absences by his boss. Quite the opposite. Putin has tended to be unnecessarily demonstrative about the strength of his handshakes, taking pains to appear fit and energetic always. He has not dropped out of sight for more than a day since the early years of his 15-year rule, when he briefly went off the radar after the submarine Kursk sank in 2000 and when terrorists seized hundreds of hostages in a Moscow theatre in 2002. The two incidents were major crises for Putin, but he has since weathered others of similar magnitude without dropping out of sight.

Full article: Putin’s disappearance implies a Russian dictatorship (The Age)

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