Is Putin ill? 'Everything is fine' despite cancelled meetings and old photos
Russian president not seen in public since 5 March and details of alleged meetings have been disproved but spokesman says no need to worry
Alec Luhn in Moscow
Thursday 12 March 2015 14.15 EDT
Last modified on Friday 13 March 2015 04.07 EDT
Vladimir Putin’s spokesman has been forced to deny that the 62-year-old president is in poor health after a string of meetings were cancelled and the Kremlin published old photographs to claim work was proceeding as usual.
Concerns over Putin’s well-being were first raised earlier this week when he postponed a trip to Kazakhstan for talks with the country’s president, Nursultan Nazarbayev, and his Belarusian counterpart, Alexander Lukashenko. A source in the Kazakh government told Reuters that the visit was cancelled because Putin had fallen ill.
Putin has not been seen in public since a meeting and press conference with the Italian prime minister, Matteo Renzi, on 5 March, where he appeared healthy.
“There’s no need to worry, everything is fine,” Peskov told the radio station Ekho Moskvy when asked about the leader’s health. He said Putin was “constantly in meetings, but they are not all public”, adding that the business at hand was “very stressful” because of the crises he was dealing with.
Asked if the president’s handshake was still firm, Peskov said his grip was strong enough to “break hands”.
In his 15 years at the helm, Putin has built up an image as a vigorous leader and active sportsman with numerous shirtless photo-ops, as well as publicity stunts involving martial arts, exotic animals and hunting and fishing.
The Russian president was due to talk with officials from Georgia’s breakaway republic of South Ossetia on Wednesday, but the meeting was reportedly cancelled at the last minute. He also failed to attend an annual meeting with officers of the Federal Security Service on Thursday, although Peskov said he hadn’t been planning to attend this year. Sources close to the Kremlin reportedly told RBK newspaper that the governor of the Yamal-Nenets region hadn’t met Putin on Tuesday, even though the presidential website said he had.
As in Soviet times, periodic scares about the Russian national leader’s health have become common, in no small part due to the secrecy kept over Putin’s personal life.
In 2010, Putin showed up at a press conference in Ukraine with heavy makeup covering what appeared to be dark bruising around his left eye. Afterwards, Peskov claimed his unusual appearance was the fault of poor lighting, but many speculated that it was the result of a Botox injection gone wrong. Russian media quoted plastic surgeons saying Putin had likely had Botox injections and other operations on his face, which has grown remarkably smooth in recent years.
The Kremlin has seemingly gone to great lengths to cover up any signs Putin could be ailing. The presidential website published a photograph and transcript of Putin’s meeting in the Kremlin with the head of the Karelia region on Wednesday, even though the meeting had taken place on 4 March, according to a local news outlet and an RBK source. Peskov insisted to RBK that they had met on the day in question, but another Karelian news site reported that couldn’t be true because the governor had been in Karelia that day at a session of the regional government.
In addition, a photograph of Putin giving flowers to the mothers of famous athletes, musicians and actors in the Kremlin that was published on International Women’s Day on 8 March was actually taken three days earlier, one of the women told RBK.