Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, has moved to deny speculation that Dmitry Medvedev may step in to replace the Russian president at a summit with EU leaders in December due to a bad back.
The Russian daily newspaper Nezavisimaya cited an unnamed EU source as having been informed that Prime Minister Medvedev would be attending the summit in place of Mr Putin.
Mr Peskov denied rumours that Mr Putin is suffering from a serious back injury from guiding Siberian Cranes, hatched in captivity, along a migration route in a motorised hang glider in September.
The PR stunt failed when it was revealed by the Rosprirodnadzor environmental agency that the birds he had guided on the way to Siberia’s far northern Yamal region failed to fly on further south.
They were subsequently put on a plane and flown back home to the sanctuary in the Ryazan region of central Russia where they had been raised.
“The claims made by Nezavisimaya don’t correspond to reality” the spokesman said, but admitted that Mr Putin has had minor ongoing back problems rooted in old sporting injuries, adding that this had been revealed at a summit in the Russian Far East in September.
“Nothing was aggravated by the flight with the cranes,” he said in a radio interview. “There was an old injury, let’s say, we talked about that in Vladivostok.”
He then corrected himself, adding: “It’s not old, just an ordinary sporting injury, Putin strained a muscle then.”
However, Mr Putin’s absence at key recent political events has led to speculation that his injury is more serious than his spokesman has suggested.
An international Arctic Forum in October was cancelled, a summit of former Soviet states in Turkmenistan has been indefinitely postponed and Mr Putin has cancelled his annual television call-in show held in December.
Mr Peskov said the televised call-in show had been put off until a warmer time when people’s “ears and feet would not freeze”, and that it may be replaced with a press conference.
According to Nezavisimaya, the EU official stated Mr Putin’s absence may damage the summit. “Imagine what it would look like if all the European countries are represented by their leaders and Putin is not there,” he reportedly said.
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