Into The Great Wide Open

A wave of savage mockery broke over Russian President Vladimir Putin across the Internet on Friday, sparked by days of absence from public view, despite official insistence it was business as usual in the Kremlin.

State television footage of Putin working at his residence failed to quell the tide of fantastical theories circulating online that the 62-year-old Kremlin leader had died, been deposed, or travelled to Switzerland to watch his girlfriend give birth.

Ukrainian children produced a cartoon showing Putin abducted from the Kremlin by aliens.

The hashtag #putinumer (putin died) began trending on Twitter, and a website, putinumer.com, offered readers advice on how to gauge whether the rumors were true.

“Look out the window,” it advised. “Are people progressionrejoicing, dancing, and letting off fireworks? No? That means he hasn’t died yet.”

Putin is normally ubiquitous in state media, but his silence in the past week has fed rumors of a threat to his grip on power. While hard facts are scarce, there has been speculation of a split between rival Kremlin camps since the killing of opposition politician Boris Nemtsov near Red Square on Feb. 27.

“Putin has died on purpose to distract attention from the murder of Nemtsov”, tweeted Putin#Vor (Putin#Thief).

Asked to confirm that the president was in good health, Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said: “Yes. We’ve already said this a hundred times. This isn’t funny any more.”

RIA news agency separately quoted Peskov as denying that Putin had become a father again—a response to a flurry of speculation that former Olympic gymnast Alina Kabayeva had given birth in Switzerland. The Kremlin has regularly denied speculation of a romantic relationship between Kabayeva and Putin, who formally divorced his wife Lyudmila in 2014.

“Putin really does have a packed timetable: yesterday he died, today he gave birth,” suggested one Twitter user.

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