Vladimir Putin will not attend the Cop26 climate summit in Glasgow in November – a decision decried in self-absorbed Britain as representing a major disgrace to its prime minister, Boris Johnson.
There is certainly little love between the administrations of London and Moscow, with an already dire relationship only likely to get worse.
But there is nothing unusual in Mr. Putin’s decision to turn down foreign travel.
The Kremlin has been pretty consistent in using Covid to shut down travel. Since the start of the pandemic, he has gone abroad just once – flying to Geneva last July for a presidential summit with US President Joe Biden.
For example, Mr. Putin has already confirmed that he will not attend the G20 summit in Italy on 30-31 October. Just as he withdrew from the Central Asia Security Summit in Dushanbe a week before the September 19 elections in Russia.
Then, the Russian president was believed to have reportedly caught the virus by unknown members of his crew.
In both cases, Vladimir Putin swapped face-to-face meetings for online participation. Indeed, a spokesman upheld the prospect of a Glasgow climate summit, suggesting on Wednesday that the Kremlin was still in talks with organizers about the nature of their participation.
Since the outbreak of the pandemic in early 2020, the Kremlin has enforced the strictest biological protection around the individual and institution known as “telo” or the body.
As a rule, anyone who wants to share the same air as The Body is required to observe a two-week hotel quarantine. Remarkably, this situation has not changed since the president announced late that he had been vaccinated in March.
Mr Putin has also reduced the time he spends in the Kremlin, preferring instead to receive guests at his residence in Novo-Ogaryovo outside Moscow. According to a local publication, he may have spent much of the pandemic in Sochi in secret, recording the president’s speeches from an unrecognized windowless office at the Black Sea resort.
The Kremlin has ridiculed those allegations. But the image of a president “hiding in a bunker” has stuck.
The extreme measures the Kremlin has taken to protect The Body are a reflection of the importance Vladimir Putin now places for his personal system of governance – and in particular those closest to him.
Still, the 69-year-old is not immortal, and Russia appears to be already at the beginning of a transition of power. There are so far unfounded rumors about Mr Putin’s health. There does not yet appear to be an acceptable solution to replace him – and that means unrest lies ahead.
The Kremlin’s confirmation in Glasgow not to participate in the talks is a blow to the global UK brand. But the story that underpins the decision will probably have more dire consequences.
The 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference, also known as Cop26, begins over the weekend.
Credit: www.independent.co.uk /