Russian President Vladimir Putin is sick with the flu, according to a Gawker report citing a CIA official who was not identified. The report Saturday came after almost a week of rumors speculating that Putin had died because he has not been seen in public since March 5.
No other details were included in the Gawker report, which contradicts unsubstantiated theories about Putin’s demise that began to swirl after the Russian president canceled a visit to Kazakhstan this week. Reuters later quoted a Kazakh government source who said, “It looks like [Putin] has fallen ill.” This statement was given extra credence when Putin subsequently rescheduled a meeting with officials in the disputed South Ossetia region.
Russian officials have consistently denied reports of Putin’s death. Friday, the Kremlin-controlled television channel NTV broadcast footage appearing to show the president meeting with Vyacheslav Lebedev, chairman of the Supreme Court of Russia, although the time and date of the meeting wasn’t immediately clear.
Presidential representative Dmitry Peskov answered in the affirmative when questioned by Reuters about whether Putin is in good health. “Yes. We’ve already said this a hundred times,” Peskov said Friday. “This isn’t funny anymore.”
But it’s possible the president has fallen victim to the flu that’s swept across the country this winter, forcing the closure of more than 1,000 schools in Moscow and elsewhere during February. Back then, Putin advised senior government officials to stay home if they were experiencing flulike symptoms. Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev was among those under the weather, according to the Moscow Times.
Yet Putin’s conspicuous absence in Russian state media coverage has led to the notion that he’s losing his grip on power. The murder of Kremlin critic Boris Nemstov has been cited as one potential spark for machinations that could result in the president being replaced.
Other rumors haven’t been quite so clandestine in nature. The Swiss tabloid Blick reported that Putin flew to Switzerland to be with his mistress as she prepared to deliver a child that was the product of the couple’s affair, according to the Telegraph newspaper. However, Peskov, Putin’s rep, told the Russian Forbes magazine, that this “information about the birth of a baby fathered by Vladimir Putin does not correspond to reality.”