Russian strongman Vladimir Putin has been AWOL for more than a week, and reports now say that the 62-year-old president may have been deposed in a silent coup deep within the Kremlin. But Putin is scheduled to make a public appearance on Monday, so the mystery of his disappearance could be cleared up at that time — or it could grow even deeper if Putin pulls a no-show, as he has at several announced meetings since March 5.
But a new report, based on claims by a key Putin ally Saturday, says that Putin has been removed from office in a behind-the-scenes coup led by the former chief of Russia's Federal Security Service, known as the FSB — the secret police and intelligence organization that has functioned as an important pillar of the Vladimir Putin regime.
"I think that Putin is neutralized at the moment, but of course, he is alive," Putin backer Geydar Dzhemal, leader of the National Islamic Committee, said on TV in Georgia, an independent country once part of the Society Union. "He is under the control of the power-wielding agencies, who have, in my opinion, organized a coup d'etat."
Dzhemal, quoted in Britain's Daily Mail newspaper, pointed the finger squarely at ex-FSB head Nikolai Patrushev. According to Dzhemal's account, Patrushev met with the anti-Putin Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov on Wednesday "and tempted him over to his side."
Kadryov, whose regime and personal wealth have benefited immensely from Putin's backing, has been reportedly linked to the shocking assassination of outspoken Putin critic Boris Nemstov on February 27. But the killing of Nemstov was said to expose a rift between Kadryov and the FSB.
According to reports out of the region, Kadryov is now "in a panic," as he desperately tries to contact Putin, with no results. Without the backing of a strong Vladimir Putin, Kadryov would likely be in serious trouble within Chechnya.
Dzhemal also noted that even though Patrushev is subjected to United States sanctions, including a travel ban, he was recently allowed to visit the U.S. for reasons that remain mysterious.
"I think he was offered something there that he failed to reject," Dzhemal said cryptically during his TV interview — perhaps implying that the United States itself is behind the supposed coup inside the Kremlin.
Putin's unexplained absence is the longest in his 15-year career at the top of the Russian power structure.
But though Kremlin PR flaks have denied rumor after rumor — about Putin's alleged health problems, or a baby delivered by the Russian president's mistress, among other speculation — most of Putin's key political allies, including Prime Minister Dimitry Medvedev, have said nothing in public since Vladimir Putin disappeared, with their silence also lending support to the report of a silent coup.
[Image: Sean Gallup/Getty Images]