Russian President Vladimir Putin has reappeared in public following a 10-day absence, laughed off suggestions he had been forced to lie low because of poor health, saying on Monday that life would be “boring without gossip.”
Putin smiled as he sat before television cameras in the Constantine Palace near St. Petersburg in his first public appearance since March 5.
In what appeared as a carefully choreographed double-act, visiting Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atambayev also vouched for the Russian leader's health, saying that Putin “just now drove me around the grounds, he himself sat at the wheel.”
“It would be boring without gossip,” Putin, looking relaxed if pale, told reporters.
Putin's meeting with the presidents of Kazakhstan and Belarus planned for March 12-13 in the Kazakh capital Astana was postponed, with Reuters quoting a "Kazakh governmental source" as saying it was canceled because Putin had fallen ill.
The Kremlin, which vehemently denied the claim, announced Monday that Putin's meeting with the two presidents has been rescheduled for Friday, March 20.
In addition to the rumors about Putin's health, his disappearance from public view also sparked speculation that a conflict had erupted among powerful factions in the wake of the February 27 murder in Moscow of opposition leader Boris Nemtsov.
Five ethnic Chechens were detained in connection with the killing, including Zaur Dadayev, a former deputy commander of a Chechen Interior Ministry battalion.
According to some observers, the Nemtsov killing was connected to a power struggle involving the Federal Security Service (FSB), Russia's main security agency, and security bodies connected to Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov.
Meanwhile, Kadyrov said Monday that Putin and his team were right to have ignored the rumors, which he said were spread by "yelping mongrels."
In an Instagram posting, Kadyrov added: "Russia is a great power that has a strong, resolute, decisive President Vladimir Putin, who will never allow the United States and its vassal Western countries to turn our Motherland into a territory controlled from London and Washington!"
Also Monday, Kadyrov was among several Russian officials who received a "For Devotion to Duty" award from the local government in Crimea, which Russia annexed from Ukraine one year ago this week.
The Crimean government said it was conferring the award on the Chechen leader for his "courage, patriotism, political activism, personal contribution to the strengthening of the unity, development and prosperity of the Republic of Crimea."
Earlier this month, President Putin bestowed one of Russia's highest awards, the Order of Honor, on Kadyrov, citing his professional achievements along with his "active public service and longstanding conscientious work."
Some material for this report came from Reuters.