The Internet exploded with speculation about the health -- and mortality -- of Russian President Vladimir Putin a week after the leader’s most recent public appearance, and rumors emerged claiming he suffered a number of serious ailments or was being deposed by the military. The 62-year-old reportedly finally resurfaced Friday in news photos of a working meeting with Supreme Court President Vyacheslav Lebedev, but some doubt the authenticity of the photos.
While some rumors border on conspiracy theories, others are far more plausible. The Kremlin’s silence only fueled the fires. If you’re looking to dive into the speculation mill, check out Reddit’s Ukrainian Conflict forum, particularly this thread powered by a creative coup theory by user escape_goat. Here’s a rundown of what’s been going on around the Internet about the World’s Most Powerful Man.
Putin is dead: The first rumor that began taking hold was that Putin died and the Russian government was scrambling to come up with a post-Putin plan. It started with a Facebook page titled “R.I.P. Vladimir Putin” that served as a mock memorial site for Russia’s enigmatic president. The first media reports claimed that an announcement of Putin’s death was briefly posted to Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev’s official website but taken down shortly after. The supposed page never turned up. One crafty Internet user even made a website called putinumer.com (Putin is dead) with a button that would come up with comical responses to the question, “Is Putin Dead?”
Twitter got a hold of it next, with Russian users tagging posts with #ПутинУмер, or #PutinIsDead with what were clearly Photoshopped, tongue-in-cheek photos from Putin’s “funeral.”
— Kevin Rothrock (@KevinRothrock) March 11, 2015
— Ben Parsons (@bfaparsons) March 13, 2015
Putin is sick and/or dying: The speculation continued, with numerous reports that Putin suffered a stroke, or only had the flu, which was supported by a Kazakh diplomat who told Reuters that Putin canceled a meeting because he had “fallen ill.”
This isn’t the first time speculation about Putin’s health has caused a stir. In 2012, Putin was seen walking with some discomfort and the media began buzzing about whether or not he needed surgery. Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko dismissed the rumors, saying Putin had a slight injury suffered during practice of judo, a sport the Russian president has participated in since his days growing up in St. Petersburg.
Putin’s girlfriend had a baby: Late Thursday, a new theory began circulating that Putin’s young Olympic gymnast girlfriend, Alina Kabayeva, was giving birth to a tiny Putin in Switzerland. Those rumors stayed alive through Friday afternoon, despite a spokesman’s denials.
"Information that a child has been born to Vladimir Putin is not true," Dmitry Peskov told Forbes Russia, according to Agence France-Presse. “I am planning to appeal to people who have money to organize a competition for the best journalistic hoax.”
Peskov was also the one to denounce rumors that Putin was ill, saying that he was still working, handing out “handbreakingly” strong handshakes all week.
The military is overthrowing Putin: Perhaps the most frightening of all rumors was that the military was conducting a coup of Putin’s regime. Putin has led Russia since 2000 and has never properly pointed out a potential successor. Many speculated a Putin-less Russia would simply fall apart and that no Russians would support a government without the president to whom they’ve given an astounding 80 percent approval rating. One Twitter user suggested Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov, who some speculate to be behind the murder of Putin opponent Boris Nemtsov, was staging a coup:
— GorseFires Collectif (@GorseFires) March 12, 2015
This rumor was fueled by videos showing numerous helicopters of the Federal Security Service landing at the Kremlin in Moscow. Russia’s emergency and defense ministers were rumored to be called back to Moscow from London on Thursday, but that has not been confirmed. Russia is still dealing with the massive political shock of Nemtsov's death and some believe the Kremlin has entered crisis-control mode to rein in control of what could be rogue Putin supporters who carried out Nemtsov's murder.