Russian President Vladimir Putin made his first public appearance Monday since March 5 at Constantine Palace in St. Petersburg, Russia, and dismissed rumors his prolonged absence was due to poor health. The 62-year-old met with Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atambayez, who also vouched for Putin’s vigor.
“It would be boring without gossip,” Putin told reporters at the palace, according to Reuters. Atambayez added that Putin “just now drove me around the ground. He himself sat at the wheel.”
Putin had been out of the public eye for nearly two weeks and last week canceled a scheduled trip to Kazakhstan, according to NBC News. Russian government officials had assured the public that Putin had continued to conduct state business and attend meetings, though many dismissed footage presented as proof of Putin’s activity as old.
Putin is normally a fixture on the Russia media landscape, over which the Kremlin wields considerable influence. But the Russian president’s uncharacteristic failure to make a public appearance led to a variety of rumors related to his health.
One source purportedly affiliated with the United States’ Central Intelligence Agency told Gawker that Putin was battling a case of the flu, while an Austrian newspaper claimed Putin has a bad back and flew a Viennese orthopedist to Moscow to provide treatment, according to Reuters.
Putin’s absence also generated a degree of sensationalism – a Kremlin spokesman denied rumors last week that Putin’s longtime alleged mistress Alina Kabaeva had given birth to a child. “Information about the birth of Vladimir Putin’s child does not correspond to reality,” the spokesman said. Putin compatriots also dismissed gossip that he had fallen victim to a military coup.
“So, have you seen the president paralyzed and seized by the generals? He has just come back from Switzerland where he attended the delivery,” joked Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov.