An alert reader reached out to us yesterday to find out if there was any news on Mr. Putin’s supposed disappearance. It is too early to tell what could be the issue, if any, but most likely he is off riding some tiger or fish, bare-chested, or perhaps he delivered 8 March flowers in person to a certain young gymnast, and her two young children, down in Sochi.
So was Mr. Putin just busy, as suggested by his press spokesman Dmitry Peskov? Or, as some in the international and domestic press are asking, is this the case of a disappearing Putin?
Typically he takes in several meetings daily, and logs telephone calls to various regional and world leaders, but his schedule was exceptionally thin this week. Other than two meetings with regional governors, and a call yesterday with Armenian president Serzh Sargsyan, one might indeed suspect him to either be ill, or on a personal retreat.
It was interesting that the only photos the presidential press office approved for media use this week, struck several of us in the foreign press as being old. Also, the location for the type of meeting seemed askew. The Kremlin is rarely used for daily meetings and work; although the “official” presidential residence is the Kremlin Senate building.
The Senate building was built in 1776, with ornate interiors and expensive dark wood work. The exterior is best known by the dome at the top, and tradition says that Russia’s leader is present inside the Kremlin when the Russian flag is flying over the Senate building dome. That is not really accurate these days, especially with security concerns that follow any world leader.
While there is government staff who work daily in the Kremlin, such as in “building 14” which houses some of the administrative staff, the Kremlin is generally reserved for state functions, such as diplomatic receptions, or the General Assembly of the Union State of Russia and Belarus which took place in the Grand Palace last week.
It really is not at all difficult to distinguish between the two locations. Most working days, and most in-state meetings, are conducted in the presidential residence at Novo-Ogaryovo, just outside Moscow.
Depending on the relationship, Putin often conducts state diplomacy meetings at his residence, rather than exclusively at the Kremlin. An example of this was the near-stealth meeting on 26 February with the president of the French Senate, Gerard Larcher.
When in Moscow, Putin generally works the entire day in the Senate building offices. An example would be last week’s Security Council meeting. Afterward, the rest of his day was spent working inside the Kremlin. There is a helicopter pad that allows the president to commute to the Kremlin without disturbing Moscow’s heavy traffic.
The presidential press office listed this week’s meetings as having taken place in the Kremlin, and one can verify this by the decor and woodwork for his meetings with Dmitry Kobylkin on 10 March, and then with Aleksandr Khudilainen on 11 March. Not only do these seem to be older stock photos, but Alex Lunc writing in the Guardian (London) reports that Kremlin sources told Russia’s RBK newspaper that Kobylkin, the governor of the Yamal-Nenets region, did not meet with Putin on Tuesday.
So, how does one check things like press office photos? Well, familiarity with those locations helps, and as one might expect, since not only are the presidential offices not alike, but the two press briefing rooms are also very different:
This is not the only time that President Putin has seemed to drop off the radar. Each year around the New Year and Christmas holiday he tends to enjoy a reduced schedule. He enjoys attending Christmas liturgy at smaller churches in towns outside the major cities.
As to this episode of the seeming disappearance of Putin, perhaps we should also consider the whereabouts of a certain aforementioned young gymnast. News reports from German and Italian media sources suggest that she has just delivered a baby at the St. Anne hospital in Switzerland. Could it be, out of compassion and concern for one of Russia’s athletes, that Putin has taken a personal interest in the management of her maternity care?
In September of last year, as Putin was restructuring the ownership and management of various media companies across Russia, the young gymnast (and former Duma member) with no media experience was named as chair of the board of the new “National Media Group,” Russia’s largest private media holding company.
NMG holdings include Channel Five and Ren-TV and is co-owner of News Media, which manages the channel Life News, the newspaper Izvestia, the Russian News Service, a group of radio networks, and other media. NMG also owns a 25% stake in Russia’s top television news and entertainment network, Channel One.