As speculation rises, Russia says 69-year-old is in good health as CIA chief sees no evidence to back up rumours.
Vladimir Putin is in good health, the Kremlin has said, dismissing rumours that the Russian president was suffering from an illness after a foreign trip was cancelled.
Earlier, a Kazakh governmental source had said Putin’s trip to Nur-Sultan scheduled for this week was cancelled because Putin had fallen ill, stirring speculation on social media that the 69-year-old leader was unwell.
But on Thursday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said in response to a question at his daily briefing, “Everything is fine with his health.”
“You know that Ukrainian information specialists, and American and British ones, have been throwing out various fakes about the state of the president’s health in recent months – these are nothing but fakes,” he added.
Russian politics, through the Soviet era and beyond, has traditionally been fertile ground for rumours because of the secrecy surrounding leaders, not least their health.
On Wednesday, Putin was due to meet a delegation of officials from Georgia’s breakaway region of South Ossetia.
“They didn’t take off,” said an official familiar with the arrangements. “They headed out in the morning but did not make it to the plane because they were told it was postponed.”
Putin was seen on Tuesday in Iran, however, as he met his Turkish and Iranian counterparts for meetings on Syria.
On Wednesday, he coughed during a public appearance; Interfax news agency quoted him as saying he had caught a slight cold during the visit to Iran.
“It was very hot in Tehran yesterday, plus 38 (degrees Celsius), and the air conditioning was very strong there. So I apologise,” Putin was quoted as saying.
Markets shrugged off the latest rumours, and the rouble was trading slightly stronger on Thursday.
Putin’s health has been in the spotlight throughout Russia’s war on Ukraine this year, with several Western media outlets speculating that he has cancer or Parkinson’s disease.
But the director of the CIA, William Burns, said there was no evidence to back up these speculations.
“There are lots of rumours about President Putin’s health and as far as we can tell he’s entirely too healthy,” Burns said at the Aspen Security Forum in Colorado on Wednesday.
Burns, who served as ambassador to Moscow, noted that his declaration was “not a formal intelligence judgement”.
Meanwhile, Russia’s war goals in Ukraine appear to have widened.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said his country’s military ambitions go beyond the eastern Donbas region.
In an interview published by the state news agency RIA Novosti on Wednesday, Lavrov said when Russia and Ukraine discussed a possible deal to end the hostilities, “our readiness to accept the Ukrainian proposal was based on the geography of March 2022″.
“The geography is different now. It is not only about the DPR and LNR,” Lavrov added, referring to the so-called Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics, Russian-backed entities in Ukraine’s east.
His comments came after the United States suggested Moscow was preparing to formally annex territory it has seized in neighbouring Ukraine.