All last week, the world was speculating as to what happened to Russian President Vladimir Putin, after he seemingly disappeared after March 5. Rumors began flying around, that Putin had fallen ill, died, become a father or been deposed in a coup. Today, however, Putin has made his first appearance in 11 days in a meeting with Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atambayev at the Constantine Palace. Putin laughed off speculations about his health, dismissing them as “gossip”. Earlier today, Putin ordered the Russian navy’s Northern Fleet to a state of “full combat readiness” in the Arctic. This comes as more than 45,000 troops, in addition to warplanes and submarines, began major military exercises across northern Russia. A brief video of Putin meeting with Atambayev was broadcast by state television, although without sound.
Putin looked to be in perfectly good health, and when asked by reporters about the rumors surrounding his disappearance, he replied that life “would be boring without gossip”. Atambayev said that Putin drove him around the palace for about 20 minutes before the start of the meeting, saying that the leader was in “excellent form”.
This was Putin’s first appearance since March 5, when he met with Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi. Last week, he cancelled a number of scheduled events, including a visit to Kazakhstan that was to take place on Thursday and Friday, as well as the signing of an agreement with South Ossetia. As people began to speculate on the leader’s disappearance, the hashtag #putinisdead (or #putinumer in Russian) began to trend on Twitter, as the Internet exploded with speculation. The Kremlin dismissed these rumors as nothing more than “March Madness”. The disappearance of Putin coincided with the first anniversary of the Crimea referendum. Now that Putin has returned, however, it remains unclear as to what he was doing in the 10 days that he had been off the grid. It could be something as innocent as a prolonged hunting trip to let off steam, but it could also have been escaping in the aftermath of an attempted coup. Whatever the reason, however, it appears that Putin is back…for now, at least.