Presidential candidate Ivan Rybkin, who had disappeared last week and returned to Moscow a few days ago, has not explained what happened - and neither has anyone else. So, what happened? Versions are aplenty but none provides a plausible and exhausting answer to the question.
Ivan Rybkin, whose bid for presidency is supported by the wealthy political emigre Boris Berezovsky headquartered in London, disappeared without a trace in Moscow in the evening of Thursday February 5. The next day he was to receive his candidate's certificate from the Central Election Commission (CEC). His wife, alarmed, sought the help of the police on Sunday February 8. Her husband had not returned home and did not answer on either of his two mobile phones. The police and the FSB had searched for him for two days, while his relatives and colleagues in the election staff did not know what to think.
In the afternoon of February 10, Ivan Rybkin suddenly called from Kiev, expressing surprise at the ballyhoo in Moscow. "Do I have a right to two or three days off or don't I?" he enquired. Rybkin allegedly went to his friends in Kiev for a rest, where he turned of his phones and did not watch TV.
A few hours after that, he landed in Sheremetyevo, where journalists wanted him to explain his disappearance. But he did not have anything more to say. However, everyone noticed that Rybkin, known to be a social person and a nice man to talk with, looked extremely strange: too slow and grim, and his answers were quite inappropriate.
Before Rybkin resurfaced in the capital of friendly Ukraine, the press and political community had backed two versions.
His colleagues hinted at the intrigue of the Russian secret services, alleging that Rybkin had criticised Putin so scathingly that the authorities could not let it go. Rybkin, they said, had complained many times that he was being shadowed by the FSB and that his telephones were tapped.
But the bulk of observers suspected something like a PR action inspired by Boris Berezovsky from London, especially because Rybkin had visited him a few days before his disappearance.
However, a sober analysis showed that both versions were silly. Why should the secret services kidnap Rybkin when his fiery speeches did not affect the president, whose rating was nearly 70%, while Rybkin's hovered around 1%. No political forces stand behind Rybkin in the presidential race; in fact, he represents only himself and his sponsor, Berezovsky, who is known to have a stubborn desire to make trouble for Putin. Kidnapping Rybkin in this situation would be making a rich gift to the exiled oligarch, helping him to discredit Putin in the eyes of the world community.
And if it was designed as a PR action, its results will be destructive for Rybkin and those who support his presidential ambitions. The leap to his friends in Kiev the day before his registration with the CEC would be completely unpardonable for a serious politician. Such behaviour with regard to wife and relatives, whom Rybkin made suffer for five days, fearing the worst, is inhuman and cannot add popularity to him.
The Russian press and politicians are sarcastic about Rybkin's escapade; nobody seems to feel sorry for him. Journalists denounce his behaviour as "circus," "cheap provocation" and "ridiculous," and some have even called the presidential candidate "an asshole." The opinions of analysts are so wide-ranging that it is clear that nobody still knows exactly what happened.
Prominent political scientist Gleb Pavlovsky says it could be one of two things: a temporary blackout (in this case Rybkin deserves respect) or a PR action that imitated abduction. The scientist believes the action was devised by Rybkin himself and his team but they went back on their own plan. The idea was to remain "missing" until March 14, only to reappear on the eve of the elections and question their results. Even if the CEC denied his request, this would have undermined the legitimacy of the elections.
Another political mastodon, Georgy Satarov, shares the latter view. "Rybkin's election campaign could envisage a scandal," he says. "The logic is simple: it does not matter what the people say as long as they remember you."
Vyacheslav Nikonov, president of the Policy foundation, tends to think that it was an ordinary drinking binge, as PR actions of this kind are not characteristic of Berezovsky. Nikonov probably means that the "disappearance" story is too silly and counterproductive.
His colleague Sergei Markov is convinced that Ivan Rybkin did it to get out of the presidential race, which Berezovsky had forced him to join by putting unprecedented pressure. If this is so, then "the action was a success and the goal has been attained."
Indeed, Rybkin said upon his return to Moscow that he might drop out of the race. But he changed his mind a day later. At Berezovsky's prompting again?
There are many unanswered questions in this strange story. Why did the FSB act as if it knew that Rybkin was all right? If the secret services knew where he was, why did not they tell society? Why did Rybkin's friends in Kiev call Moscow to say he was there? Unlike the presidential aspirant, they surely watched TV and knew what ballyhoo Rybkin's disappearance created in Russia, didn't they?
The latest explanations offered by Rybkin complicated the case still more. He says now that he went to Kiev not to rest but on a business trip, to meet with opposition forces. And he went secretly because he was sick and tired of the FSB watchers. At the same time, he noted, quite "logically," that they (secret services) knew where he was all the same but raised the ballyhoo over his disappearance for provocative purposes. Rybkin's colleague, another presidential candidate Irina Khakamada says this reminds her of the persecution syndrome.
There is no rational explanation to Rybkin's disappearance. All participants in the story keep something back and the main character is keeping many things back. Rybkin's leap to Kiev remains a mystery of Russian politics that so far defies decoding.