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Russia is facing multiple crises. They are likely manageable, but at the core is the assumption of prudent and consistent management. This is needed both to make certain the crises do not become unmanageable and to reassure the Russian public that the leadership is united and in control. The last 10 days did the opposite. They made it appear that either the leadership was caught in a power struggle or that Putin — if he was merely busy, as Peskov said — was irresponsible.
It is certainly true that a leader can take a vacation, but this one was so sudden that it involved canceling meetings and treaty signings. It is also true that leaders can work out of the public's eye. So if Peskov's description was correct, Peskov and Putin had to be aware of the concerns arising and that not allaying those concerns for 10 days tended to undermine confidence in Putin's judgment or cause unease about his authority. The idea that the concerns had no foundations was possibly true. But the concerns were not unreasonable, and Putin acted as if he were indifferent to them. Peskov's contemptuous dismissal of any apprehension was hardly calming.
But the point stands. At any time, and certainly at a time of international and domestic crisis, a responsible leader does not compound problems by seeming to be another source of instability. Putin has not run Russia for some 15 years because he is irresponsible. There is no apparent reason for his disappearance, yet he disappeared. We do not know the real reason, but the one provided is hard to swallow. What the reason was, and whether his reappearance is the end of this behavior, remains to be seen.
Putin’s reappearance comes as Russia marks the one-year anniversary of a referendum in Crimea that led to Russia annexing the Black Sea peninsula from Ukraine and froze Moscow’s ties with the West. His disappearing act also came amid a febrile political atmosphere in Moscow after the murder of opposition leader Boris Nemtsov, the most shocking assassination of Putin’s 15 years in power.
Some observers suggested that Putin took the time out to deal with increased infighting among political and business elites over Russia’s confrontation with the West and the economic crisis sparked by sanctions and falling oil prices. One of Russia’s best-loved authors, Boris Akunin, said he was no fan of Putin’s but that he was disgusted to see some people anxiously waiting for a “front-page obituary.” “I absolutely don’t want the authoritarian regime in Russia to collapse just because Putin disappears of his own accord [or as a result of a palace coup],” he wrote in his blog. “I want the authoritarian regime to be replaced as a result of people’s conscious choice, their collective actions.”