​Putin looking very well for a man who died last week

Bryan MacDonald
Bryan MacDonald is an Irish journalist, who is based in Russia
Russian President Vladimir Putin.(Reuters / Anatoly Maltsev)
The media spent a whole weekend following the Putin ‘story’ and then discovered it wasn’t news at all. And some say journalism is dead?

Lost weekends, eh? Most of us have had them. Arrive at the pub Friday after work and before you know it, it’s Monday morning. Sometimes, your wallet could be missing, or a tooth. Maybe you’ve met the – temporary – love of your life Saturday night or, on a bad day, still have a lingering taste of Kebab?

Fun as it can be, most of us eventually grow out of it. Past the age of 30, it’s more lost hopes than lost weekends that bother one. By 60, loss of memory is a more likely affliction, allowing you to experience lost weekends without even leaving home.

At 62, it’s fair to say that Vladimir Putin is hardly in the first flush of youth. While a very fit man for his age, one doubts that three-day long benders are his forte. However, in the increasingly nutty world of Western Media ‘Kremlinologists,’ the Russian President has just had a weekend that’d make the cast of the Hangover movies blush.

The experts that aren't

Experts…who? Most of them have either barely or never lived in Russia. Many have not even visited Russia for a considerable length of time. Even more can’t speak enough of the language to order a pizza in downtown Moscow. None of this stops them from pontificating across social media and the airwaves with their unique brand of collective baloney. One “pundit” trying to outdo the other for impact. Like bar-bores looking for a bit of company on a lonely Monday night.

So this was it, as now we know: Putin died on Thursday. Following the shock of his sudden death, he then fathered a child on Friday, in Switzerland. Surely overjoyed at overcoming the obstacle that was his passing, his weekend took a turn for the worse on Saturday when he was overthrown in a military coup – on top of having had a fit of aggressive flu.

No wonder so many people were surprised by how well he looked on Monday morning, considering these supposed exertions.

Instead of meekly sliding back into the bushes from which they had emerged, some of the Western press held out. Take a look at this mid-Monday tweet from young British neocon Ben Judah. A few months ago, the Londoner seriously damaged Polish politician Radoslaw Sikorski with his unique brand of incompetence. Now he is refusing to surrender his hopes that Putin might have serious problems.

Judah is a regular pundit on British television, hired by producers who vastly over-estimate his knowledge of Russia. He helped to lead a Twitter frenzy and some of his fellow travelers joined in. The world of anti-Russia journalism/activism is a relatively small – albeit lucrative – one, and the chief players are all familiar with one another through various think-tanks and fora.

Rising from the ether like Zombies

Anders Aslund is a ‘90s hold-over who predicted Russia’s collapse in 1999. He was wrong. Aslund circulated a Tweet on Sunday which suggested that Putin’s famous/infamous aide Vladislav Surkov had fled to Hong Kong, as a kind of reverse Edward Snowden

Later, an actual Russia expert, Eric Kraus, explained to Aslund that Surkov, a noted culture vulture, was probably attending Art Basel in the former British colony. Aslund didn’t acknowledge Kraus.

Another canard was that Putin’s long-time bodyguard, General Viktor Zolotov, had died . Meanwhile, Mark Galeotti, a popular pundit, helped fan the conspiracy theories last Thursday, showing the same vaunted accuracy as exactly one year ago when he claimed Russia wouldn’t seize Crimea.

Of course, neocons have instigated similar fantasies before. In 2009, false rumors that Ayatollah Khamenei of Iran was dead spread like wildfire around the web.

So where was Putin? I have no idea. Also, given the peculiarities of Russian politics and the traditions of the country, speculation is futile. Russia is not America. Politicians don't share their medical histories or personal lives with the media in the manner that has become almost compulsory in Washington. Anyway, if he really was sick, why the surprise? A 62-year-old man picking up the flu is hardly unusual. Especially at a time of year when the harsh Russian winter transforms into spring.

However, the non-event of the weekend does confirm a few suspicions.

Firstly, how one-track the Western media has become in the social media age. Despite a host of issues relating to the Ukraine ceasefire and the Russian economy, almost the entire press pack were distracted by the kind of nonsense that should be restricted to the silly season.

When a once-respected newspaper like London’s Daily Telegraph has its Moscow correspondent, Roland Oliphant, producing this kind of piffle, there's little that can be said in its defense.

Additionally, and most importantly, a key fact was reinforced: Too many prominent ‘Russia experts’ are simply not fit for the designation. They’ve either been too long out of Russia to commentate with authority on the country’s current state or they never knew much to begin with. It’s time to sideline the Cold War dinosaurs and their protégés. In Russia-focused journalism, as in many areas of life, les grandperes ont toujours tort.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.