Russian TV channel scotches rumours of a Kremlin coup with report Mr Putin is at rural retreat recovering from flu, while spokesman says president will be watching Crimea documentary airing tonight
Media speculation has reached fever pitch over the weekend about the whereabouts of Russian President Vladimir Putin – now missing from the public eye for 10 days – with swirling theories of bloody Kremlin coups, secret births or sudden deaths.
But the reality on Sunday appeared as if it might be more prosaic. Has Mr Putin really just been in bed with a bad cold?
Opposition television station Dozhd reported on Sunday that Mr Putin had come down with the flu and was currently recuperating at one of his country residences outside Moscow, citing anonymous sources.
And Mr Putin was apparently doing exactly what anyone bedridden with a virus might be expected to do: switch on the television.
State-owned television channel Rossiya 24 was due to broadcast a documentary about the Kremlin annexation of Crimea on Sunday evening.
Dmitry Peskov, Putin’s spokesman, refused to comment on the Dozhd’s reports about Mr Putin’s alleged rural recuperation, but did say he would be tuning in to watch the show, according to Russian news agency Interfax.
Apparently Mr Putin has not yet seen the final cut of the programme, which reveals new details of the special operation and featuring interviews with Mr Putin and Defence Minister Sergei Shoiguand.
Illness was the first explanation offered for Mr Putin’s absence’s last week.
Unnamed Kazakh officials were quoted as saying earlier this week that the Russian leader had cancelled a trip to Kazakhstan because he was unwell.
The news prompted a flurry of feverish speculation as other events were cancelled and days went by without a public appearance by Mr Putin.
The Kremlin has denied that there is anything amiss. Reports that Mr Putin was in Switzerland to attend the birth of his child with Alina Kabaeva, his alleged girlfriend and mistress, have also been denied.
Mr Peskov has said repeatedly that his boss is in good health, and has simply been holding meetings in private.
The assassination of opposition leader Boris Nemtsov in central Moscow last month, which the Kremlin said was a “provocation” designed to undermine political stability, has fuelled a climate of fear in Moscow where rumours have flourished.
Reports of the fall from grace of a long-standing Putin ally, head of oil giant Rosneft Igor Sechin, have increased the conviction of many that there is a bitter power struggle going on for control of the country.
Others have pointed to remarks by the strongman leader of the Chechen Republic, Ramzan Kadyrov, praising the alleged killers of Nemtsov who were publicly paraded by the country’s security services.
Geydar Dzhemal, the chairman of the pro-Kremlin national Islamic Committee, even claimed on Georgian TV that Mr Putin had been “neutralised” – though still alive – by the FSB, Russia’s security service.
In Russia, some have been concerned by Mr Putin’s absence; others have not hidden their glee.
In Kiev, which is confronting Russian-backed rebels in the east of the country, a group of activists on Sunday erected a black tombstone to Putin outside the Russian Embassy.
A website in Ukrainian has appeared tracking the exact amount of time Mr Putin has been missing: on Sunday it stood at more than 10 days.
But in Moscow, in the absence of developments, many are expecting Mr Putin to appear at work on Monday, where he is due to host Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atambayev in Saint Petersburg.
“I’ll repeat again: everything is calm in Moscow, there is no information via any reliable sources of problem – don’t hurry to bury Putin, you will have to battle with him yet,” opposition leader Vladimir Milov wrote on Facebook on Sunday.