There was still some debate this morning about whether or not we would see Putin today. One Russian blogger had said that President Putin’s scheduled meeting with President Atambayev of Kyrgyzstan had been cancelled, but it appears that he was referring to a previous announcement that registration for the press conference had been cancelled (this had happened last night).
The media that was accredited and allowed to see Putin and Atambayev were forced to wait until the two men were ready to answer questions.
The old Kremlinology tradition has reared its head, and many comments were made about Putin’s gait, his appearance, and so on.
In my opinion, it was almost certainly Putin, but he did not look well. On the other hand, he has not been looking well since his trip to Vladivostok last November.
What is going on? There does appear to be some kind of power struggle going on behind the scenes. Some observers think that it is about the fact that one security service stepped on another’s toes and the latter felt slighted. This took place as a result of the Boris Nemtsov murder.
If this is the case, it would more comparable to the so-called “Siloviki Wars” of 2007. At that time, different groups of security agents tried to gain the upper hand due to tension stemming from the uncertainty around who would succeed Putin in 2008. In the end, it was assumed that Dmitry Medvedev was the compromise candidate to appease the different factions.
The Kremlin may be facing a similar situation now. There are some doubts that Putin could last until the next election in 2018 due to health considerations. Sensing this weakness, the clans may again be trying to fight for dominance.
In addition, there is some tension about the way the war in Ukraine is going. It appears that one group thinks that the Kremlin could do more in Ukraine and that they should be further embedded within the country. The other group is probably okay with the current trajectory.
If this is a clan war, we will most likely see more signs of it in the coming weeks and months.
But the Kremlin also effectively used Putin’s disappearance as a distraction from both the current confusion surrounding the Nemtsov murder “investigation”, and their invasion of Ukraine. And in the end, that’s mostly what this exercise was about.