17 Mar 2015

Putin dismisses 'gossip' over absence

10:02 am on 17 March 2015

Russian President Vladimir Putin has laughed off speculation about his health after making his first appearance in public since 5 March.

Russian President Vladimir Putin

Russian President Vladimir Putin Photo: AFP

Life "would be boring without gossip", he told Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atambayev at talks in St Petersburg.

The 62-year-old appeared relaxed and smiled before the television cameras.

His disappearance from public view had sparked rumours that he might have fallen ill, died, been removed in a coup, or once again become a father.

Earlier this week, Mr Putin ordered the Russian navy's Northern Fleet on to a state of full combat readiness in the Arctic.

It came as more than 45,000 troops, as well as warplanes and submarines, started major military exercises across northern Russia.

'Excellent form'

A brief video of Mr Putin's meeting with his Kyrgyz counterpart at the Constantine Palace in Russia's second city was broadcast by state television without sound.

There was no obvious sign that Mr Putin had been or still was suffering from any medical condition, says the BBC's Richard Galpin in Moscow.

Asked by reporters about the speculation on his health, the Russian leader replied: "It would be boring without gossip."

Mr Atambayev, for his part, said Mr Putin had driven him around the palace for 20 minutes before the meeting.

"I can confirm that he's in excellent form," he was quoted by one journalist as saying.

Mr Putin's last public appearance was on 5 March when he met Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi.

Last week, he cancelled a number of scheduled events, including a visit to Kazakhstan that was due to take place later this week, and the signing of an agreement with South Ossetia.

As speculation about Mr Putin's disappearance mounted, the hashtag #Putinumer (#Putinisdead) trended on Twitter. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov was forced to counter questions about each rumour, dismissing them as "March madness".

"So everyone has now seen the paralysed president captured by a general who has just returned from Switzerland where he was delivering a baby?" Mr Peskov asked journalists sarcastically on Monday.

He said Mr Putin and Mr Atambayev had met at the Constantine Palace because the Kyrgyz leader's daughter was studying nearby.

-BBC