The Russian online public sphere has been buzzing with new rumors of Putin's death this week. On Tuesday, a rumor started to circulate that he had a heart attack and was in poor shape. And on Thursday (Oct.26, 2023) an anonymous "Russian Foreign Intelligence Service General" account on the Russian social media platform Telegram posted this:
"Attention! At this very moment, a state coup is unfolding in Russia! Russia's President Vladimir Putin has died this evening in his Valdai residence. At 8:42 pm Moscow time, the doctors stopped resuscitation and pronounced him dead. Currently, the doctors are locked in the room with Putin's corpse, being held there by the presidential security officers, on a personal order from Dmitry Kochnev, who is reporting to and receiving instructions from the Secretary of the Russian Security Council Nikolay Patrushev. The president's doppelganger's security has been enforced. Active negotiations are taking place. Any attempt to pass the doppelganger as the president after Putin's death is a state coup."
Everything is beautiful about this post: 1) the reference to Valdai, Putin's favorite highly secured residence with its own deep underground bunker; 2) the reference to doctors locked in the room with Putin's corpse is akin to the circumstances of Stalin's death; 3) the reference to Patrushev who until the Russian war on Ukraine was considered to be the most likely Putin's successor; 4) the reference to a doppelganger playing to the rumors that Putin has at least one double for public appearances; and 5) the reference to an unfolding coup-de-stat, which are abundant in Russia's history.
Ever since that posting, I've been googling "Is Putin Dead?" every 30 min to an hour in my waking time. I was hopeful that the rumors will get confirmed this time, in contrast to many other times when Putin's death gossip circulated and dissipated.
But alas, there will be no The Swan Lake performance on Russian State TV. It is another Russian tradition: in the Soviet times, when an octogenarian Communist Party leader died and his minions did not know how to break the news to the Soviet people, they'd just cancel all entertaining programs and fill the airtime with the ballet and classical music performances. Hence this cartoon below:
The Kremlin officially stated that this week's rumors were not true. Moreover, at 7 am on Friday morning, the Russian state information agency RIAN posted the video of Putin conducting a video conference with his Security Council about illegal arms circulation in Russia:
The reference to the doppelganger in the death Telegram post is interesting for another reason: the rumors that Putin has at least one double have been circulating since about 2012 or even earlier and intensified during and after the pandemic. Putin is a notorious germaphobe who travels mostly by train; sits across a 30-foot-long table for negotiations with Macron and other foreign leaders; conducts meetings over zoom rather than in person; and has had the entire state hall cleared during the state funeral of Zhirinovsky so that he could stand next to the corpse alone for 30 seconds.
Putin's doppelganger, on the contrary, is fierce and fearless: he flies long distances and sometimes appears in crowd pleasing meetings in Siberia at the same time as the original Putin conducts a summit meeting in Moscow (that really happened), drives himself along the restored Crimea bridge, and goes in person to visit the Potemkin village (Google that up if you don't know what it means) in Mariupol - the Ukrainian city his carbon copy ordered to erase with insane rocket shelling and then to rebuild it. There are a lot of comparison pictures of the original Putin's face to the face and even ears of his double, which will convincingly tell you that Putin has at least one double. Hence this cartoon:
By now, Russians are so used to the idea that Putin has doubles that they just make tired jokes about it. But no one really asks what will happen when the real Putin dies: are they going to continue with this charade and let the double rule the country? There are a lot of people around Putin, all war criminal like him, who would want to keep the status quo and pretend that he is still in power.
And that might be the real reason for spreading the death rumors. I wouldn't be surprised if they are spread by the Kremlin spin doctors who are purposefully moving the Overton Window: if Putin's death rumors are so persistent that they reach the level of the absurd, when he finally really dies, there will be no national revolt. People will be so tired of rumors that the truth will not move them in any way. And Putin's oligarchs and inner circle will be able to figure out how to stay in power.
P.S. By request, I also wrote up a piece on Overton Window and how it works:
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