Russia This Week: All the Strange Things Going on in Moscow

March 14, 2015
A scene from the premier of "Hamlet" in Moscow at the Bolshoi Ballet as staged by Radu Politaru. Photo by Konstantin Remchukov

In Russia This Week, you will find links to the stories of Russia Update in the last week and to special features, plus an article following up on the news and trending topics below.

Last issue: Remembering Boris Nemtsov, Insider and Outsider (1959-2015)

This Week’s Top Stories:

Kremlin Publishes New Picture of Putin Amid Concerns About Absence
Questions About Putin’s Health After Canceled Meetings & Vague Answers
Chechen Suspects in Nemtsov Murder Withdraw Confessions, Say Were Tortured
Getaway Car Suspected in Nemtsov’s Death Also Found Near His Home in October
Chechen Suspect Reportedly Offended at ‘Negative Comments’ by Nemtsov on Islam
5 Chechen Suspects Brought to Court in Murder of Boris Nemtsov
Suspects Detained in Murder of Boris Nemtsov from North Caucasus

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At week’s end, we still do not know more about the whereabouts of President Vladimir Putin than we did at the start of the week, when it first began to be noticed that he had not been seen in public since March 5.

The last two weeks since the murder of opposition Boris Nemtsov on February 27 have brought not only widely disparate theories of the case, rapid arrest of the suspects, and reversals in their testimony under claims of torture, confirmed by some human rights activists although disputed by others close to the government. There have also been other upheavals in Russia that indicate Nemtsov’s murder may have touched off or even come about as a clash of different forces within Putin’s regime. Putin has not been reliably verified as having been seen in public since March 5 when he was visited by Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi and some Russian mothers who taped a special program with him for International Women’s day aired later March 8. The stills and videos shown by this week of meetings with governors may have been taken last week, according to various sources. Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan spoke to Putin on the phone, which has been confirmed, and supposedly Putin had a meeting at his residence in Novo-Ogaryovo today with the Supreme Court chairman, but this could not be confirmed.

While Russia analysts such as Robert Coalson (“Three Scenarios for a Succession“), Tom Nichols (“If Putin Dies”), Paul Goble (“Interregnum“) and Anders Aslund have theorized that some kind of change of government could be coming with Putin ill or sidelined, they say no one has any proof and can only go by their instincts as old Kremlinologists and wait for the story to unfold. Whether the ruler who comes after Putin would be from “the party of war” or the “party of peace” or neither, definitively, there is not likely to be any immediate relief from the war in Ukraine, as fighting continues with serious encroachment on the area north of the sea port of Mariupol, as our Ukraine Live blog has reported.

Here’s a list of all the developments we think are significant — or just odd — some of them unverified reports — to see if the pieces can be fit together: