Vladimir Putin reappears – but where has he been?

Putin makes his first public appearance in almost two weeks, but it hasn't put the rumours to rest

President Vladimir Putin
(Image credit: SERGEI KARPUKHIN/AFP/Getty )

Vladimir Putin has reappeared in public after more than a week of rumours about ill health, an alleged coup attempt and a love child in Switzerland.

The Russian president met with the leader of Kyrgyzstan, Almazbek Atambayev, in St Petersburg to discuss trade and investment, after keeping journalists waiting for several hours. There had been no sighting of the "omnipotent and normally omnipresent" leader since 5 March, despite the ongoing crisis in Ukraine, says the BBC. So where has Putin been? With the Kremlin keeping quiet about his rare "disappearance", we round up the leading rumours and theories:

He was ill

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After abruptly cancelling a trip to Kazakhstan and various other meetings last week, a Kazakh government official said the leader was feeling unwell. One Russian television reported that Putin was suffering from the flu, while another suggested he had back trouble. However, Putin laughed off rumours about his ill health at today's meeting, saying life would be "boring without gossip". The president appeared "relaxed but pale", according to Reuters.

He was getting combat-ready

Putin's reappearance comes as Russia's navy is put on a state of full combat readiness as part of major military drills, the BBC reports. The drills involve navy drills 56 warships, planes and 38,000 personnel, according to the Kremlin. The latest move comes amid increasing tensions with Nato over the crisis in Ukraine.

There was an attempted coup

"The suspicions that there is something untoward happening behind the Kremlin's thick, red walls have been heightened by the way government officials themselves have responded," says the BBC's Richard Galpin. The rumours were fuelled when one of Putin's close allies, Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, posted an image with the caption: "I am devoted to him as a person. And this regardless of whether he is in his position or not!"

He was at the birth of his love child

Swiss media reported that Putin was attending the secret birth of his child by rumoured girlfriend, the gymnast-turned-politician Alina Kabayeva, the Daily Telegraph says. Putin's spokesperson, however, said "information about the birth of a baby fathered by Vladimir Putin does not correspond to reality".

Is Putin ill? Kremlin denies rumours, but publishes old picture

13 March

The Kremlin has been forced to deny rumours that Russian President Vladimir Putin is ill, despite several cancelled meetings and the release of an old photograph.

"There's no need to worry, everything is fine," Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov told a Russian radio station. He said the leader was "constantly in meetings, but they are not all public" and that the situation at the moment was "very stressful" because of the crisis in Ukraine.

When asked if Putin's handshake was still strong, Peskov responded that his grip could "break hands", The Guardian reports.

The 62-year old president hasn't been seen in public since 5 March, when he met Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi. Rumours began to circulate earlier this week after Putin postponed a trip to Kazakhstan, with a Kazakh government official revealing that: "It looks like he has fallen ill."

The president then missed a meeting about the breakaway Georgian state of South Ossetia, the last-minute cancellation raising further questions about his health. Putin also failed to attend an annual meeting with the Federal Security Service this week, but Peskov said the president had not been planning to attend this year.

To allay fears, Putin's press team released a photograph showing him in a meeting with the regional governor of Karelia, but several news agencies have since pointed out that the image is more than a week old.

Putin's "disappearance" comes as the Kremlin revealed that it had fired the American public relations firm that handles his global media image. The move is apparently a result of the growing hostility between Russia and the West triggered by the conflict in Ukraine, says CNN.

Rumours of Putin's ill health have circulated throughout his presidency, but his public image has always been carefully crafted to present him as the picture of health and strength.

"These rumours stem from fear and uncertainty about what happens after Putin," says Vox. "No one knows who would assume power if he died, got sick, or otherwise left office."

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