Russian President Vladimir Putin has canceled a few meetings and hasn’t been seen in public for a week, the government published old photos of him, and his spokesperson said everything is fine. But there’s still speculation that something’s wrong with his health like say, a stroke.
Dmitri Peskov, a spokesperson for Putin, 62, stressed that the president is just stressed out and said his handshake, if applied properly, can “break hands,” according to an interview with Russian radio station Ekho Moskvy.
Since he took power ages ago, Putin have developed somewhat of a cult of personality focusing on his manliness. He’s been photographed hunting, riding on a horse without a shirt on, he’s posed with action star Steven Seagal, and he is sometimes seen showing off his judo skills.
The lack of government transparency about what happened to Russia’s most powerful man has prompted rampant speculation.
He hasn’t been seen in public since he had a meeting and press conference with Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi on March 5. In the following week, he was forced to cancel meetings with the leaders of Belarus and Kazakhstan.
“There’s no need to worry, everything is fine,” Peskov said when he was asked on the radio station. He said he spoke with the leader of Armenia on the phone on Thursday.
But it’s unusual for Putin to drop out of view for more than a day, as Bloomberg notes, which described his absence as “dictator”-like.
“We know three things,” says intelligence agency Stratfor in an analysis. “First, the cancellations were odd. Second, the insistence that he was not ill was also odd. Third, the Kremlin did nothing to allay concerns about Putin’s status. The Russians had to know that they were not allaying concerns; denying that he was ill but giving no alternative explanation for the cancellations seemed strange as well.”
Over the years, there’s been rampant speculation about Putin’s health and appearance.
In 2010, Putin famously appeared at a press conference in Ukraine with what appeared to be makeup covering a dark bruise around his left eye. Peksov said at the time that it was due to poor lighting, but many speculated that he got a Botox injection, and it went bad. After that, some claimed that the Russian leader’s face has gotten smoother over the years due to plastic surgery, according to The Guardian.
In 2012, when Putin was seen limping around and canceled a few trips, Peksov said he suffered a “sports injury.”
Adds Stratfor, “We have been reduced to very old methods to try to figure out what is going on. That alone is significant. But so is the fact that these meetings were canceled.”