Vladimir Putin's mysterious sabbatical from public life is now in its eighth day, and, still, nobody knows where he is. The Kremlin, whose spokesman Dmitry Peskov has the unfortunate task of insisting nothing is wrong, denies that the Russian president is incapacitated. On Saturday, Moscow announced that Putin will surface on Monday in St. Petersburg, where he's scheduled to meet Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atambaev. The meeting would be Putin's first public appearance since March 5, when he met with Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi.
Putin's reemergence will, probably to the disappointment of journalists everywhere, put a slew of salacious rumors to rest. Even if the president resumes power as before, however, his extended absence raises an uncomfortable question. What would happen in Russia, hypothetically, if Putin dies?
Until this week, analysts had little reason to contemplate the scenario. Putin is just 62 years old and, as Russian propaganda regularly reminds the world, in good shape. But nobody expected Kim Jong Il, just 69, to die young—until he did in 2011. And there's even a precedent in recent Russian history. Three leaders of the Soviet Union, Leonid Brezhnev, Yuri Andropov, and Konstantin Chernenko, died in rapid succession from 1982 to 1985, a series of events that brought the reformist Mikhail Gorbachev to power.