The media furor seemed out of proportion to Putin’s relatively short absence. As Putin’s unexplained vanishing act entered its second week, even reputable media began to speculate on its causes. The hashtag #????????? (Putin is dead) began to trend on Twitter, and each new rumor became more outlandish than the last: Putin has the flu. He has back pain. He’s been having plastic surgery. Putin has cancer. He is attending the birth of his love child. He’s been overthrown in a palace coup. Moscow is even now preparing for Putin’s state funeral!
Anti‐climactically, the president reemerged on Monday, looking pretty much unscathed and with no explanation given. And as far as we can tell, Vladimir Putin is a perfectly healthy 62‐year‐old man. There is no reason why he could not easily stay in power through the end of his term in 2018. Yet men younger than Putin have indeed suffered from ill health and sudden or even fatal diseases. And even if he remains in power till 2018 or beyond, the question still remains: What comes after?
Putin has been the lynchpin of Russian politics for 15 years, and remains — by far — the most popular politician in the country. At the time of his unexpected appointment as Yeltsin’s replacement in 1999, the unstable political system was dominated by cronyism, with Yeltsin’s oligarchic financial backers running the show. Putin brought these groups to heel, and though his regime is still undoubtedly corrupt, the Russian government today is no longer riven by large‐scale conflict between competing interests.