Reports about Vladimir Putin’s death might be slightly exaggerated, but they have kept Internet-users entertained for two days now. Yet, as journalists go chasing the vanished Russian president, perhaps someone needs to talk to his Armenian counterpart, Serzh Sargsyan, who insisted that he spoke to Putin over the phone just yesterday.
According to the Armenian president’s office, Putin told Sargsyan he was planning to come visit Yerevan on April 24 for Armenia’s commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the massive slaughter of ethnic Armenians in Ottoman Turkey.
If the chat did take place, Sargsyan may be the last leader to have spoken to Putin. A trip to Kazakhstan was canceled, as was a meeting with a delegation from breakaway South Ossetia.
Armenia ranks as Russia's main ally in the South Caucasus, so, presumably, Sargsyan would know when he's talking to Putin himself.
But how did Putin sound to the Armenian leader? For now, Sargsyan's office ain't sayin'.
The chat, though, is likely to feed the fire of speculation since Putin disappeared from public view after late last week. What began as a “have you seen Putin?” whisper is turning into a wildly trending “Putin died” phenomenon that some take seriously and others as a total joke. Even an oracular website has been set up to let users ask if Putin is dead or not.
Besieged by questions about the Kremlin chief’s health, Putin’s irked spokesperson Dmitry Peskov has told reporters that they are crazy. He insisted that his boss is up and kicking, and still delivers a bone-crushing handshake.
But suspicions linger. It's still remembered how, in Soviet times, the Kremlin kept all hush-hush about leaders’ health, and how viewers were not sure if Leonid Brezhnev was alive even when he waved his hand to the Red Square crowds.
The Russian administration’s claim that Putin on March 13 met with the chairperson of Russia’s Supreme Court, Vyacheslav Lebedev, failed to dispel the rumors. No visual evidence or details, noted Ekho Moskvy radio station.
Some media outlets, though, are taking a philosophical view of things..
In a sobering editorial, Russia’s Novaya Gazeta, a Kremlin-critic, wrote that “Putin did not die. It is you who did if you think that his death will make you free.”
The Russian gloating over the “dead” Putin is but a reverse of North Korea lamenting Kim Jong-Il, the editorial said, and does nothing to end a tradition of tyranny. “In both cases, serfs have one and the same hope: that the new lord will be better than the last one.”