By Mark Wachtler
March 15, 2015. Moscow. (ONN) Where in the world is Vladimir Putin? Today marks the tenth consecutive day since the Russian President has been seen. Whispered speculation last week Wednesday quickly turned into public demands for answers on Friday when Russian state TV and Kremlin leaders took turns tripping over themselves with misstatements and propaganda, indicating something is definitely going on. The most fitting answer according to experts on Russia - a palace coup.
Where in the world is Vladimir Putin?
So far, there are four legitimate possibilities that explain what may have happened to Russia’s Vladimir Putin to cause his public absence. And we may not have to wait long for an official answer, as media outlets around the world have been buzzing that their Russian bureaus have been instructed by the Kremlin not to leave Moscow and be prepared for a major national announcement in the coming days.
Adding to the curiosity and speculation, Russian state TV broadcast a report that Putin met with Kyrgyzstan’s leader on Monday. The only problem is the segment aired this past Friday, three days before tomorrow’s meeting. Throw in a mysterious convoy of dozens of semi-trucks lined up outside the Kremlin right now, and the world is abuzz with speculation.
Putin is in Switzerland attending the birth of his latest child.
That was the stunning implication published by Switzerland’s oldest newspaper on Friday. The report, recapped by Germany’s Deutsche Welle, documented the sudden arrival of numerous Russian state vehicles at and around a southern Swiss hospital where the publication reports that Putin’s secret girlfriend Alina Kabaeva is giving birth to the couple’s third child. No Russian official has ever confirmed the couple’s relationship, much less any children. And the report didn’t mention any actual sightings of Vladimir Putin himself.
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Putin is sick.
The first indication that something wasn’t right in Moscow was last week when Vladimir Putin inexplicably missed his meeting with Russia’s Federal Security Services. The Russian President rarely, if ever, misses this important meeting. Suspicions of something amiss were confirmed when the Kremlin next cancelled two meetings scheduled with Putin and the leaders of Belarus and Kazakhstan. Russian media assumed the Russian President was sick, but Putin’s spokespeople have repeatedly dismissed that suggestion saying Putin was so healthy, his handshake could crush a man’s hand.
Putin is dead.
It wouldn’t be the first time that a Russian leader had died and the Kremlin didn’t tell anyone right away, leaving the nation in the hands of rich oligarchs and military generals while the powers-that-be scramble to find a consensus replacement. But if there’s one thing the world can agree on when it comes to the mysterious former KGB agent, it’s that Vladimir Putin is a strong and healthy individual. If he’s dead, it most likely wasn’t from natural causes.
The biggest fear is that the CIA assassinated the Russian President using some mysterious new secret weapon like a laser beam from space, a remote heart attack gun or even simple poison administered by a well-placed secret agent. But with Vladimir Putin being the most protected person in the world, it’s unlikely a foreign foe got close enough to kill him. If the Russian President was assassinated, it would most likely have been carried out by his own people. And that brings us to the final and most likely answer - Vladimir Putin is in custody and in the process of being overthrown in a coup.
Putin was just overthrown in a coup.
Of all the speculative news reports swirling around the world this weekend wondering what happened to Vladimir Putin, possibly the most informative and insightful comes from Forbes.com. Yes, the same media property that once referred to us as ‘something called Whiteout Press’ has actually put together the best theory of all, and backed it up with testimony from a former Putin advisor. Andrey Illarionov was a Kremlin insider who now works for the CATO Institute.
According to Illarionov, who successfully predicted Russia’s expansion into Eastern Ukraine and its annexation of Crimea, the most likely explanation is that Vladimir Putin was just overthrown in a palace coup. In his blog, which is published in Russian but translated by Forbes, Illarionov suggests the secret year-long bloodless civil war going on in Russia has finally come to an end, and Vladimir Putin and his military industrial complex lost.
The Russian Civil War nobody saw
According to Andrey Illarionov and Forbes Magazine, there has been an internal power struggle raging in Moscow between the wealthy oligarchs and the military leadership. Apparently, just like the US President is merely a figurehead and servant of the country’s corporations, so too is Russia’s President. The former adviser to Putin paints a picture where the seemingly powerful Russian leader was actually stuck in the middle of a civil war for control of the Kremlin.
Looking back over the past year’s worth of shocking actions by Russia and its leader, Illarionov’s explanation seems to fit. According to the former insider turned CATO advisor, the tensions began over a year ago when the pro-Russian, democratically elected President of Ukraine was overthrown. US State Dept emails leaked by groups like Anonymous and people like Edward Snowden suggest the Ukrainian coup was planned and executed by the US and the CIA.
Needing to respond to its next door neighbor and former province being occupied by its number one enemy, Russia’s two controlling factions were at odds. Andrey Illarionov describes a scene where Russian Generals and the military industrial complex demanded an increase in defense funding and a military response to the West’s confrontational action in Ukraine.
On the other side were the Russian billionaires and oligarchs, who like all billionaires and oligarchs, just want to remain billionaires and oligarchs. And for them, war with the West meant a possible loss of business and profits from their Western counterparts. Or worse, it could mean a Russian state take-over of their assets to fund the ill-conceived and unnecessary war, which is exactly what happened to some of them over the past year.
Russian military wins, then loses to the oligarchs
As detailed by Andrey Illarionov, it’s obvious the ‘war hawks’ in Russia won the internal power struggle initially. President Putin went on to send secret forces into Ukraine, he annexed Crimea, incorporated parts of Georgia, and in the face of devastating economic sanctions and a plunge in oil revenues, the country has only increased military spending. But flash forward one year to this weekend and it seems the oligarchs have struck back, and they may have taken down Vladimir Putin in the process.
Russian banks, businesses and billionaires were forced to quietly go along with the hawks’ military and power aspirations, and more importantly, fund them. Western economic sanctions have taken a huge toll on their wealth and income. Putin seemed to send them a signal when he began imprisoning certain billionaires and confiscating their wealth. Some fled to Western or neutral countries like Switzerland. Others began plotting Vladimir Putin’s demise.
Boris Nemtsov and the final straw
When Russia’s main opposition leader Boris Nemtsov was assassinated outside the walls of the Kremlin on February 27th, just two days before he was to lead a protest march through Moscow, the world saw it as a desperate attempt by Vladimir Putin and Kremlin war hawks to hold onto power amid mounting inflation, food shortages and public opposition. Two days after Nemtsov’s murder, 50,000 Russians marched through Moscow in protest.
Countless global media outlets have reported that Russian authorities took a handful of Chechen nationals into custody for the assassination of Boris Nemtsov, and some were even killed by Russian forces attempting to apprehend them. The idea that the Kremlin would use Chechen rebels, now loyal Putin followers, to assassinate opposition leaders isn’t out of the question. What is a surprise is that the provincial leader of the barely containable Chechen militants has come out against the Kremlin and in defense of the accused Chechens.
Former Putin advisor Andrey Illarionov says he believes the Russian billionaires have had enough of Putin and the war hawks’ ill advised confrontation with the West. With the assassination of opposition leader Boris Nemtsov, it’s clear that angry everyday Russians have had enough as well. Add to that the public criticism by the leader of one of Putin’s largest and most powerful blocks, and it seems the notion of Vladimir Putin being overthrown in a coup last week isn’t so far-fetched after all.