Gone into self-isolation during the pandemic, which intensified after the outbreak of war with Ukraine, Vladimir Putin is increasingly surrounding himself with a regime of secrecy.
After Ukrainian drones nearly attacked the residence in Novo-Ogaryovo in May and Wagner PMC tanks nearly entered Moscow a month later, the Kremlin began to conceal the movements of the Russian “president” during official trips across Russia.
At a daily briefing on Thursday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov announced Putin’s trip to a Russian region, but declined to say which one. “For obvious reasons we are not announcing regional trips right now, we are not telling ahead of time about the places we will visit, we will do it today during the day”, Peskov said.
About 6 hours later, it became known that Putin flew to Murmansk, and this happened for the first time since 2014. Back then, he visited the world’s largest city above the Arctic Circle and Russia’s main strategic submarine base for Navy Day. This time, “the details of the program of the head of state’s stay in the Murmansk region have not been disclosed”, Interfax wrote after Putin’s plane landed in Murmansk.
Later, the Kremlin press service reported Putin’s visit to the Center for Construction of Large-Capacity Offshore Structures, where the president launched a gas liquefaction line on a gravity platform for Novatek’s Arctic LNG-2 project, after which Putin held a meeting on Arctic development at the Murmansk region’s Regional Management Center, where he stated that there were “big problems” with infrastructure and housing.
“The wear and tear of the communal infrastructure and housing stock even in the major cities of the Polar region reaches 70 percent, and in small remote settlements and so-called ZATOs, closed administrative territories, this problem is even more acute”, the president said.
Close to Murmansk is Gadzhievo, a Northern Fleet base where ballistic missile submarines, including the newest Yuri Dolgоruky and Prince Vladimir, are stationed. Whether Putin visited the base remains unknown, as well as why the Kremlin decided to classify the details of the upcoming visit.
After Yevgeny Prigozhin’s mutiny, fears of internal destabilization and a coup in the Kremlin intensified, sources familiar with the situation told The Moscow Times. According to one of them, a former Kremlin official, “everyone is now under suspicion” by the FSB.
Putin is finding it increasingly difficult to fulfill his usual role as moderator of Russia’s elites, Bloomberg wrote in June, citing Kremlin insiders. The agency’s sources said warring camps have emerged, with some in favor of aggressive continuation of the fighting and others in favor of a quick settlement to limit the damage to Russia. The Wagner rebellion has intensified an elite split that, however, has been maturing for many months because of setbacks on the front, Bloomberg wrote.