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‘Things Would Be Boring Without Gossip’: Vladimir Putin Is Back!

Perhaps there is some credence to rumors over dysfunction within the Kremlin, perhaps there isn’t. The sad truth is no one really knows.

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After a 10-day absence and swirling rumors about his whereabouts, Russian President Vladimir Putin reappeared in public on Monday and offered a nonchalant assessment of the various reports of his demise: “Things would be boring without gossip.”

Indeed, Putin’s absence has been anything but boring. Kremlin-watchers have in recent days spun themselves into a craze trying to divine why the omnipresent Putin had suddenly moved out of the public’s gaze. Andrei Illarionov, a former advisor to Putin and now a fierce critic of his regime, said he had been toppled in a behind-the-scenes coup. This explanation was reiterated by Anders Aslund, a well-connected Swedish economist, who suggested that a power struggle was under way within Russia’s elite. Aslund tweeted that former deputy prime minister and Putin advisor Vladislav Surkov had fled to Hong Kong with his family. (Judging by his wife’s Instagram account, it may have just been a family vacation.) Another rumor had it that Putin’s longtime bodyguard, General Viktor Zolotov, was dead.

When Putin finally appeared on Monday — in St. Petersburg at a meeting with Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atambayev — no explanation was given for why the Russian leader had canceled a trip to Kazakhstan and a high-level sit-down with the FSB last week.

The meeting with Atambayev was meant to finalize the details over Kyrgyzstan’s accession to the Moscow-led Eurasian Union, but speculation over the Russian president’s whereabouts during the last 10 days overtook the main event. After the meeting, Atambayev told reporters that Putin had taken him for a drive and that “he’s in excellent form.”

The rumor mill and Monday’s public quashing of speculation about Putin’s health is representative of the veil that shields the inner workings of power in today’s Russia. Deciphering events within the Kremlin has devolved into picking over social media posts and sifting through unsourced gossip. Perhaps there is some credence to rumors over dysfunction within the Kremlin, perhaps there isn’t. The sad truth is no one really knows.

EPA/ANATOLY MALTSEV

Reid Standish is an Alfa fellow and Foreign Policy’s special correspondent covering Russia and Eurasia. He was formerly an associate editor. Twitter: @reidstan

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