Putin has not been seen in public for 8 days, long enough for many to wonder where he is, and for the Kremlin to deny rumors of illness. Here are things that suggest all is not well with Putin - or with the Russian establishment.
1. The Kremlin's claims that Putin was fine were accompanied by photographs from a meeting from the previous week, a fact that was promptly discovered.
It's hard to believe that Putin would permit such an easily falsifiable story if he were still firmly in charge.
2. When insisting that Putin is healthy, Putin's spokesperson Dmitry Peskov appeared a bit unprofessional in an open shirt and no tie, in contrast to his normally highly professional appearance. He always looks cadaverous, but his manner was downcast and hesitant, as opposed to his normal confident manner.
as compared to:
3. The "Putin is dead" hashtag appears to be much more prevalent within Russia than without. If false, one would normally expect such a hashtag to be more common outside Russia, where there are many who would be happy to see Putin dead, than within Russia, where Putin is highly popular. However, those within Russia are closer to the situation and closer to any who know the truth.
4. There are reports from what appears to be a reasonably reliable news site that an announcement of Putin's death briefly appeared on Prime Minister Medvedev's web site.
If Putin is dead or incapacitated, how did it happen? If the hardliners had murdered Nemtsov and Putin in preparation for a coup, it's hard to believe they would wait over a week to take further action. Putin might have had a debilitating stroke, though the temporal proximity to the Nemtsov assassination seems a bit of a coincidence. Putin being assassinated in retaliation for the Nemtsov murder would also explain the temporary paralysis of the Russian leadership as they kept checking over their shoulders, though one would think that getting through Putin's personal security would be no easy task.
Of course, it's always possible - albeit unlikely - that European rumors are true that Putin went to Switzerland to be at the birth of a love child with his rumored girlfriend Alina Kabaeva. None of the possibilities seem especially likely, but it's hard to eliminate any of them as impossible. Even after Putin reappears - alive or dead - we may not know what actually happened.