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Putin Back In The Saddle, But Doubts About Absence Remain

Russian President Vladimir Putin's meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Moscow on November 16 ended a prolonged withdrawal from public life that has led to lots of speculation about his health.
Russian President Vladimir Putin's meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Moscow on November 16 ended a prolonged withdrawal from public life that has led to lots of speculation about his health.
By Daisy Sindelar
Russian President Vladimir Putin looked calm and in control on meeting German Chancellor Angela Merkel at the airport on November 16 before launching into a series of contentious talks on everything from business ties to Russia's human rights record.

Dressed in a smooth black suit, walking comfortably, and even occasionally laughing, Putin appeared eager to stifle simmering speculation about his health following a prolonged withdrawal from public life a mere five months after his return to the presidency.

Over the past several weeks, Putin has canceled or postponed five foreign trips, including visits to Pakistan and Turkey.

He also put off his annual call-in program with the Russian public, and has spent more than a month largely confined to his private residence in Novo-Ogaryova outside Moscow.

Kremlin officials have been largely tight-lipped on the reason for Putin's cocooning, saying only that the 60-year-old leader is suffering from back pain. Video footage from recent months shows Putin moving stiffly and with evident pain.

No one appears to begrudge the notoriously fit Russian president a momentary lapse in health.

But to some, Putin's underexplained absence was beginning to draw unappealing comparisons to countries like Cuba and Turkmenistan, where ailing leaders still enjoy near-complete privacy as they approach the end of their days.

Political analyst Dmitry Oreshkin says Putin's return to public life was inevitable if he wanted to squelch speculation that he was hiding a serious illness behind a Soviet-style news blackout.

"He had to make an appearance because we were already starting to hear the kinds of conversations that you usually only hear in authoritarian, totalitarian regimes. 'What's wrong with the boss? What's with the chief? For some reason he's not around,'" Oreshkin says. "This kind of thing doesn't happen under normal conditions, under normal governments. There, if something happens to the top political figure, it's not a secret. In one form or another it gets discussed and decisions get made."

Earlier in the week, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev became the latest spokesman to vouch for the president's health.

There was "nothing serious" about Putin's condition, Medvedev assured reporters, adding, in his lawyerly way, that he was "not a doctor."

Rumors Are Rife

Putin's month in the shadows does not seem to have set back his professional agenda. His spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, says the president is maintaining a "working schedule."

But in a country rich in conspiracy theories, there is ample online speculation that the presidential absence is about more than a backache.

Russians are accustomed to thinking of Putin as an abnormally fit man with a penchant for derring-do.Russians are accustomed to thinking of Putin as an abnormally fit man with a penchant for derring-do.
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Russians are accustomed to thinking of Putin as an abnormally fit man with a penchant for derring-do.
Russians are accustomed to thinking of Putin as an abnormally fit man with a penchant for derring-do.
Some have suggested Putin is recovering from a heart attack. Others that he is plotting a purge of his political ranks. A few, looking at the president's rosy mien at the press conference with Merkel, may even be pressed to believe the past month may have been spent recuperating from plastic surgery.

But regardless of the reason, there are concrete concerns that any future no-shows could have serious consequences.

Investors have expressed alarm that the mystery over Putin's health may exacerbate foreign doubts about Russia's business climate.

And European officials have reportedly expressed frustration at speculation that Putin may not be able to attend next month's EU-Russia summit, which is expected to focus on critical energy issues.

Tough Exterior

The presidential absence may also be distressing among ordinary Russians, many of whom are accustomed to thinking of their president as an abnormally fit, abstemious man with a black belt in judo and a penchant for derring-do.

Putin, famously, has tranquilized wild animals, plunged watery depths for ancient treasure, and even piloted a motorized hang glider in an attempt to fly with endangered cranes -- the very stunt that some suggest may have inflamed his back pain.

Sociologist Boris Dubin says even Russians who disagree with his politics may find Putin a refreshing alternative to alcohol-tinged, myocardial leaders of the past like Boris Yeltsin and Leonid Brezhnev.

Despite a deep sense of personal privacy, Putin is a far more visible -- and self-aware -- leader than his predecessors. He has been photographed shirtless, is linked by the media to a young mistress, and is believed to have already undergone at least one round of plastic surgery last year.

Such efforts, Dubin suggests, may indicate that Putin's immense political power is dependent on maintaining his image as an athletic, attractive man -- a fact that may unnerve him as his body continues to suffer the ordinary pitfalls of aging.

"It's not just that he's a healthy and physically fit person. He also tries a bit too hard to demonstrate that he's healthy," Dubin says. "I'm not a psychoanalyst, but I suspect that he's not entirely comfortable with this [athletic] identity. There are certain moments of insecurity with his image."

Daisy Sindelar

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by: Eugenio from: Vienna
November 18, 2012 10:03
Aha, ok, first - before Frau Merkel went to Moskau - the RFE/RL publishes an article arguing (by the way, The Economist published one of its own with similar argumentation) claiming that the German lady - who is portreted these days by millions of protestors on the streets of Athens, Lisboa and Madrid almost EXCLUSIVELY in a Nazi uniform - was going to criticize Putin for his "violations of human rights" in Russia and Putin himself was kind of going to stand in the corner - like a bad school-boy - and look at his shoes, afraid to raise his eyes and look in the face of his harsh, and yet just German language teacher :-).
And now that the visit of Frau Merkel is vorbei, and - just as I was saying on the eve of the visit - she DID NOT EVEN MENTION this "issue" of Pussy Riot explicitely (preferring, as usual, to concentrate on the economic dossiers of the agenda), the RFE/RL prefers to change the topic and rather talk about HEALTH ISSUES that allegedly haut Putin lately :-)).
You, guys, should open a HEALTH SECTION on this web-site and regularly publish articles on the following topics:
(a) about how Fidel is going to die because he is just too old (I mean, the Beavuses sent HUNDREDS of killers to la Habana to kill him over the last half a century - but the losers were too stupid and screwed up every single time - Viva Fidel!).
(b) about how Chávez is going to die of cancer (now that the Venezuelan pro-US oligarchy has been just as inept as their bosses from Washington DC - having spent 13 years trying to overthrow Chávez or to vote him out - they can only hope now that he dies from some health problems - Viva Chávez!).
(c) about how Putin is no longer what he used to be - his health is getting ever poorer; so, the message is, it's about time to get someone else instead, someone who would be younger and healthier, someone like Senator Jessy Helms or Senator McCain, for example :-)))).
In Response

by: Camel Anaturk from: Kurdistan
November 18, 2012 12:03
You bloody western Russia haters,Vlad Vladimirovich is still alive and well-he doesnt drink vodka anymore but only pure unadulterated water from the fountain of youth and I got bad news for you -he`s gonna live longer than Metuselah!!! Problem is he had a dispute on foreign policy with comrade Kabayeva and just needs some time to recuperate from the black and blue eye he got from the dispute. However we are all concerned about Eugenio`s health-as we learned he has changed his sex to satisfy Jack`s wishes,but concerns about his well being remain!!! We all think RFE/RL should publish the medical record file of his illness-some say the diagnosis is Infantile imbecile paranoia caused by the quality of alcohol imbibed.others say he was just born that way!!!Eugenia,if you have problems paying for your treatment just whistle,dont be that shy!!!

by: Eugenio from: Vienna
November 18, 2012 11:28
By the way, German media is also reacting to the visit of Frau Merkel to Moskau - and can not help admitting that in German-Russian relations, it is Russia "that determines the rules of the game alone" ("Moskau bestimmt allein die Spielregeln"). The article then goes on to admit that the alleged German "appeasement policy <vis-à-vis Russia> did not bring any results" ("Der Beschwichtigungskurs hat keine Früchte gebracht"). Just in order to conclude that "Germany does not have any workable political concept of dealing with Russia" ("Deutschland besitzt kein politisches Konzept für den Umgang mit Russland").
So, first of all, once again: serious European media looks at those issues in a much more sober and realistic manner than such cheap US propaganda outlets as the RFE/RL.
And, second, one could add a little bit more realism to what the German article said: The recent OECD study on the "Global Economy by 2060" estimates that by 2020 (8 years from now!) the Russian economy will have overtaken the German one as the biggest in Europe (and 5th biggest in the world - after the PRC, the US, Japan and India). So, I mean, how could the Germans possibly be in a position of giving the Russian govt any kind of lessons on what to do and how to do it? I mean, don't make people laugh :-)))...
Source: http://www.spiegel.de/politik/ausland/deutschlands-ostpolitik-ist-gescheitert-a-867725.html
In Response

by: Camel Anaturk from: Kurdistan
November 18, 2012 22:50
Well,here is what the Spiegel article doesnt say:In 21 years` time The Russian 2000 year reich will rule the world.USA unable to pay its foreign debt will have sold Alaska back to the russians,then a socialist revolution will follow in Canada making the country part of CIS,and the defaulted americans will also apply for a membership there,only to be turned down,cause nobody wants Beavuses and Buttheads!!! The russians will have conquered Germany again,but this time not only the eastern part but the western as well and the red flag will fly proudly on top of the Reichstag /we can only guess who would have put it there-Eugenio or Jack???/The sun will never set in the russian empire.RFE/RL and the Beeb will be long gone and forgotten and the whole wide world will listen to Radio Moscow and look at Russia today!!!Russia will be ruled by the Pope Emperor Kabayev the third the magnificent and omnipotent batyushka who will appoint Eugenio as Reichs chancellor of the western protectorate of Soviet Germany and Jack will be its obergruppenfuehrer!!! Now,open your eyes take your hangover pills,wash your face and ears,do your gym exercises and listen: in 20 years time Russia will be a province of Tatarstan.Thanks to their prodigious ways of doing things the russians will be a pitiful minority-every year more than 100 000 russians die of alchohol poisoning and the population decrease is more than 200 000 a year-source is current russian state owned and controlled TV.
In Response

by: Eugenio from: Vienna
November 19, 2012 12:32
Dear Camel, you are making a lot of interesting points as usual - and your preditions for the future do not sound all that false, as a matter of fact :-).
But the last point you are raising sounds particularly interesting: you are talking about the "population decrease" in Russia - and it's probably just a CONINCIDENCE that exactly today Spanish media is publishing a very interesting chart, according to which the Spanish population will decline from some 46 mln people today to about 41,5 mln people by the year 2052. So, I don't know, maybe one could see a trend here that one can observe in a number of countries. I guess the Spaniards wished they had Tatars in order to help them resist the population decline :-)).
Source: http://sociedad.elpais.com/sociedad/2012/11/19/actualidad/1353320388_394798.html
In Response

by: Eugenio from: Vienna
November 20, 2012 15:30
By the way, Camel, and concerning your irony related to "the red flag will fly proudly on top of the Reichstag" or "the whole wide world will listen to Radio Moscow". See, for example, today's issue of the Austrian newspaper "Der Standard" published a very interesting overview of the state in which today's West-European airlines industry finds itself - that gives you another chance to understand in what direction these "advanced" "industrial" societies are heading. So, look this is the state of the major air-companies of the Old Continent ALREADY TODAY:
(a) Air Berlin (DE) - the Etihad Airways from ABU DHABI currently controls 29 % of shares of this one of the leading German air-companies;
(b) Easy Jet (UK) - the Emirates Airlines from the UAE just a few days ago forced the British Easy Jet into entering in a "strategic partneship" with iteslf, thus acquiring access to more than 130 European destinations that the Easy Jet USED TO service on its own without any help from the GULF;
(c) Air Lingus (IR) - the already mentioned Etihad from ABU DHABI is set to acquire 28 % of the shares of this Irish company in the days to come;
(d) KLM/Air France - the same Etihad is about to force this French-Dutch conglomerate into entering in a "strategic partnership" with itself - apparently on the conditions similar to those that will aply to the Easy Jet;
(e, f, g) Iberia (ES), TAP (PT) and SAS (Sweden/Norway/DK) - all three companies are forced by "adverse market conditions" to cut their personnel by up to 22 % (the case of Iberia) and cut the wages of the remaining personnel by up to 35 % (again the case of Iberia);
(h) Malev (HU) - ceized to exist earlier this year.
So, Camel, this is just one more illustration to the point I was making earlier: the so-called "First World" (Western Europe in this specific case) is slowly but stedily going under and, consequently, is forced into trasferring its "crown jewels" to outsiders. In the air-lines segment the GULF ARABS appear to get ever more influence in the EU; enough has been written about the growing dependence of Germany and EU on the RUSSIAN ENERGY sector; in the field of finance the US and the EU would have long gone bankrupt with CHINESE loans. And this influence of extra-"First World" actors is getting ever stronger in all of the mentioned and many other fields.
Thus, Camel, the "vision of the world" that you meant to be an ironic one is, as a matter of fact, not that different from the one that is actually coming. On the Reichstag we may well see a red flag a few years from now, whereas the Saudi flag will most probably be "proudly flying" on the Washington Hill...
Source: http://derstandard.at/1353206571443/SAS-einigte-sich-mit-ersten-Gewerkschaften

by: Mamuka
November 19, 2012 19:37
There is a great line in the latest Power Vertical podcast in which one of the hosts recalls Kremlin announcements from the Yeltsin era when it was said that "the President is working with documents." klassno...
In Response

by: Eugenio from: Vienna
November 20, 2012 07:25
Where are all those guys who go around reminding others what comments are "relevant" and what is not :-)).

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