Russian President Vladimir Putin was finally back in action this weekend, appearing alongside German Prime Minister Angela Merkel at a series of (reportedly tense) talks in Moscow.The president — who had been uncharacteristically absent from public life in past few weeks — was “dressed in a smooth black suit, walking comfortably, and even occasionally laughing” according to Radio Free Europe.
It appears likely the big show was put on in an attempt to end to the wild rumours about his absence that have been doing the rounds in Moscow. According to reports in October, Putin had cancelled all foreign trips until December, and was remaining confined to his home. Bloomberg estimates that he cancelled or postponed five foreign trips in a month.
In Moscow, the rumours circulating about this strange behaviour focuses on one thing — the 60-year-old Putin’s health. Last month one source told Reuters that he had a serious back problem that would require surgery, while a Russian business daily reported that he had injured himself with his latest action man stunt — flying in a glider with endangered cranes. Other rumours included a recovery from a heart attack.
The official Kremlin line — that Putin wasn’t hurt, but did have an old “sporting injury” that was agitating him — didn’t seem to placate anyone.
Things were made worse by an unexpected government shake-up at the start of the month which has been taken by some as an excuse to get Putin’s heir apparent (Sergey Shoygu) into the Defence Minister position. One article from Global Voices ties speculation about Putin’s illness with the move — and quotes one Russian activist who reportedly heard Putin has spinal cancer and only has a few months to live.
While all reports about the illness are still just speculation (and, as we saw in China with Xi Jinping, may amount to nothing), many investors have noted that a lack of transparency over the issue reflects wider problems with Putin’s Russia.
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