To all appearances, Vladimir Putin keeps a tight schedule. But perhaps that schedule isn't quite as tight as it appears.
Akiyoshi Komaki, the Moscow bureau chief for the Japanese newspaper Asahi Shimbun, recently investigated a number of photographs the Kremlin had put out of the Russian president's meetings in August. The meetings all took place in the same dark, wood-paneled room in the Russian governmental complex, though they were said to take place on different days.
The first meeting, with acting Magadan region governor Vladimir Pechyony, was said to have taken place Aug. 18. Another meeting, with Igor Anatolyevich Orlov of the Arkhangelsk region, took place Aug. 22. The next, with Sverdlovsk region governor Yevgeny Kuyvashev, was said to have taken place Aug. 23. A final meeting was said to have taken place Aug. 24 with the governor of Moscow region, Andrei Vorobyev.
Something didn't seem quite right to Komaki about these photographs. So he began to look closely. He realized that in the photographs from the 18th, 23rd and 24th, the pencils and papers on Putin's desk appeared to be in an almost identical, if not totally identical, arrangement.
However, they were in a subtly different position on the 22nd. How had they jumped back into place for the next day?
Then there was the shoes. While Putin was dressed similarly in all the photographs, he was clearly wearing a different pair of shoes in the photograph from the 22nd. Intriguingly, while he does seem to be wearing a different shirt and tie in the photographs from the 18th, 23rd and 24th, he seems to wear the same shirt and tie (at least a very similar combination) on the 22nd and 23rd.
Komaki's conclusion, published earlier this week, is that three of the meetings probably took place Aug. 17 or before, while the meeting purported to have been on the 22nd took place on a different day. The Kremlin then staggered the release of the photographs in an apparent bid to make Putin look more busy than he actually is.
This may strike many as a particularly conspiratorial branch of Kremlinlogy, and perhaps it is. But questions have been raised about the official version Putin's schedule before. Many of the Russian president's meetings take place behind closed doors with no reporters present, forcing news outlets to rely on the Kremlin for their version of events. Sometimes, not everyone is sure those events took place the way the Kremlin describes them.
Last year, when Putin took a unexplained leave of absence from public appearances, the Kremlin released photographs of him holding such meetings in the Kremlin. However, there was a problem: Local media had already reported that the meetings had taken place the week before. Conspiratorially, rumors flew that the Russian president had botched plastic surgery. Some even wondered if he was dead.
There's no suggestion of anything nearly that sinister this time around. Instead, Komaki points to a recent quote from Dmitry Peskov, Putin's spokesman. "Frankly, I look at [Putin's] work schedule until September 1 and I do not see time for vacation, unfortunately," Peskov had told Ria Novosti in late June.
Lenta.ru noted at the time that Putin rarely goes on official vacations — the last time he took a publicized break was in 2014, when he hiked in Siberia for his 62nd birthday. In 2015, Putin did find time to spend a brief weekend in Siberia again with his friend, former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi.
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