Schroedinger's Putin

The net has been atwitter recently with rumors that Vladimir Putin is sick, dead, or deposed. These are based on the thinnest of evidence, but nonetheless disquieting.

Rumors are swirling today about the possible illness — or even death — of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Mainstream media outlets have reported that he may be sick. Social media jokers used the hashtag #ПутинУмер ("Putin is dead") to speculate that he will be buried topless — a reference to his fondness for posing for bare-chested photos — or that he couldn't possibly die, because "it's not profitable."

Putin is almost certainly going to re-emerge in a few days looking none the worse for wear. But this isn't the first time rumors of this kind have caught on — and the fact that he can't cancel a couple of meetings without causing a frenzy of speculation hints at a deeper truth about Russia, and the state of Putin's regime.

These rumors stem from fear and uncertainty about what happens after Putin. No one knows who would assume power if he died, got sick, or otherwise left office. That instability is a real danger, even if the death rumors are probably false.

Why hasn't Putin been seen since March 5?

The rumors began on Wednesday after Putin cancelled a visit to Kazakhstan this week. An anonymous Kazakh government official told Reuters that "it looks like he has fallen ill." Reuters later reported that Putin had also rescheduled a meeting with officials from Georgia's breakaway South Ossetia region, which was set to take place on March 11, but has now been postponed to March 18.


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