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Return of the king: What will Putin do next?

He's back - and whether Vladimir Putin spent his 10 days out of the spotlight sick, getting Botox or feuding with other Russian officials, we'll probably never know.

What we do know is that this week is likely to be crucial for his future both inside and outside Russia, as the fallout from the murder of opposition politician Boris Nemtsov on February 27 continues.


Putin seemed relaxed when he reappeared in public Monday, joking about the "gossip" surrounding his absence. He is likely to stride back onto the national and international stage with a show of strength, even as concerns grow about whether he will serve his full term as President of Russia, which is due to finish in 2018.

"The potential for an asymmetric power transfer is higher now than for some years," Citi analysts warned in a research note.

Here, we take a look at how the week could unfold.


Pomp and circumstance

Ceremonies this week to mark the anniversary of Russia's annexation of Crimea will be an opportunity for a show of Russian military and geopolitical strength.

Vladimir Putin sunglasses
Aleksey Nikolsky | AFP | Getty Images

Putin has already grabbed headlines following a documentary for Russian television about the annexation. He said that Russia was ready to put its nuclear forces on alert over the crisis, marking the first explicit mention of the potential for nuclear warfare over Crimea, a small peninsula in the Black Sea which is strategically important for Russia.

Sanctions escalation?

On Thursday and Friday, the heads of European Union member states are meeting, with the prospect of extending -- or even increasing -- existing sanctions against Russia, some of which expire in July.

Early indications are that divisions between the powers are stark. The U.K., Nordic and Baltic countries are keen to roll over the sanctions on energy, finance and defence when they expire. Whereas France, Italy and Spain are unwilling to risk the fragile ceasefire in the currently-disputed regions of Ukraine (a ceasefire which has already been marked by sporadic outbreaks of violence).

Ukraine lobbying

On the same day Putin reappeared, Ukrainian President, Petro Poroshenko, held a high-profile meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. He warned: "As a result of Russia's crossing the red lines after the occupation of Crimea, the structure of security that has been implemented from after the Second World War doesn't work anymore."


Ukraine, and other countries which have historic reasons to fear the spread of Russian influence, will be trying hard to keep concerns about Russian aggression at the forefront of Western minds.

- By CNBC's Catherine Boyle