After a 10-day long absence, Russian President Vladimir Putin made his first public appearance on Monday, quelling rumors that he was taking care of a love child, severely ill or dead. Putin stepped out into the media frenzy in St. Petersburg, where he met with Kyrgyzstan President Almazbek Atambayev and addressed the gossip folks.
"It would be boring [to live] without gossip," Putin told reporters on Monday. Atambayev added that Putin was even driving him around, "sitting at the wheel himself," further brushing away rumors of Putin's possible declining health and physicality.
Putin's evasion from the public eye became noticeable last week, when the Russian leader canceled several meetings and events at the last minute, including a high-profile ceremony in Moscow. The last time Putin was seen in public was on March 5, when he met with Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi. According to Bloomberg Business, Putin's 10-day-long absence was his longest disappearance from the media since 2012.
As conspiracy theories swelled in Russia and beyond over the last week, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov made the media rounds, denying that there was anything suspicious about Putin's sudden — and uncharacteristic — disappearance. Speaking to a local Moscow radio station on Thursday, Peskov claimed Putin was in his best health, saying the Russian president was still so strong he could "break your hand."
Peskov also told Reuters on Thursday that Putin wasn't really gone — just hanging out away from the spotlight. "He has meetings all the time," Peskov told the news source. "He has meetings today, tomorrow. I don't know which ones we will make public."
No one knows for sure if this is Putin's actual first public appearance since March 5. On Friday, the Kremlin released three photographs of a meeting between Putin and Vyacheslav Lebedev, head of Russia's Supreme Court, that purportedly took place on March 13. However, many Western news outlets couldn't confirm if the meeting occurred on Friday, leading to speculation that these photographs were taken at an earlier date.
A couple days before, the Kremlin also released a photograph of Putin meeting with head of the Republic of Karelia, Alexander Khudilainen. Again, not many people outside the Kremlin can confirm that this meeting took place on March 11, and not at a previous date.
For what it's worth, the Kremlin has been tweeting enthusiastically about Putin's movements during his 11-day disappearance. During that time, he congratulated Russian women on International Women's Day, sent a "Happy Birthday" message to first woman in space Valentina Tereshkova, and also had a telephone conversation with Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan.
The Kremlin announced several more meetings for the Russian leader this week, which means we will now be getting our 10 days worth of Putin. But with these photographs from the Kremlin still unexplained, is Putingate really over?
Images: Getty Images, the Kremlin