Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has claimed he does not know who to speak to in Russia regarding peace because he is “not sure whether Vladimir Putin is still alive”.
Speaking via video link on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum, the Ukrainian President questioned whether it was Putin “particularly making the decisions” in Russia, implying that recent sightings of the autocrat in St Petersburg could have been a body double.
Mr Zelensky said: “Right now I don’t understand who to talk to. I am not sure whether the president of Russia is still alive. I don’t understand that he’s still alive or that it is him, particularly making decisions.”
On Wednesday, Vladimir Putin visited a St Petersburg WW2 memorial for the 80th anniversary of a Soviet battle with the Nazis.
He was later pictured at a weapons factory, addressing its workers and several war veterans.
The day before, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Putin was planning to make a state address following his factory tour, though that did not materialize.
Mr Zelensky’s comments are unlikely to be a genuine suggestion that his Russian counterpart is dead, rather they could be a nod to the fact that Putin has been noticeably more withdrawn from public-facing duties in the last few months.
He canceled his beloved annual press conference at the end of last year, which is 2021 saw him speak for nearly four hours, as well as his state address and several factory visits.
Experts have suggested his withdrawal could be due to a fear for his safety, a claim that has been bolstered by reports that he is using agents of the Russian secret service (FSB) to pose as civilians in photoshoots to avoid having to engage with the public.
While understanding civilian sentiment towards the war in Russia is difficult, owing to the lack of transparent polls or ability to voice dissent, the mass exodus of citizens following the mobilization speech last September and the concurrent protests in Moscow suggest a growing disdain for the “special military operation”.