Vladimir Putin Emerges -- Or Does He? -- Following Long Absence
After a week out of the public eye, the Russian strongman has emerged. Maybe.
The Russian government released photographs this morning of the strongman meeting with the head of the country's supreme court. But the calendar often seen on his desk is not in the frame -- and there's no way for ABC News to independently verify the meeting occurred today.
If authentic, these pictures mark the first time in a week Putin has been seen in public. He was spotted meeting Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi on March 5, and every day since then, the rumor mill has been working overtime.
Is he sick?
A stroke, maybe?
Did he die at the young age of 62?
The Russian translation of the hashtag #PutinIsDead has wracked up nearly 4,000 tweets and #WhereIsPutin memes have gone viral.
The suspicions broke into the mainstream media when Putin abruptly postponed a trip to Kazakhstan after an anonymous Kazakh government official told Reuters that "it looks like he has fallen ill."
Putin's spokesperson dismissed the idea.
"He has meetings all the time," a Putin spokesman told Reuters. "He has meetings today, tomorrow. I don't know which ones we will make public."
But something is fishy, Russia watchers say.
On March 11, the Kremlin announced that Putin met with the head of the Karelian Republic. But it turns out local Karelian media had already reported this meeting back on March 4.
Then there was the International Women's Day video released by the Kremlin on March 8 -- but participants said it was pre-recorded four days earlier.
And about that supposed meeting on March 8 with the governor of the Yamalo-Nenets region?
Internet sleuths noticed Putin was wearing the exact same suit, shirt and tie he had worn in photographs four days earlier. Coincidence? Maybe.
Today, a Swiss-German paper is pedaling a new theory: Putin is a daddy again.
There are reports that Anna Kabayeva, Putin’s 31-year-old longtime girlfriend and former Olympic gymnast, checked into the maternity ward at the famed Sant’ Anna Clinic in Ticino, Switzerland. The clinic is a favorite of the Russian oligarch class; its website, alongside Italian and English, has a Russian version.
Putin's spokesperson refuted the baby claims today, telling the Russian language version of Forbes that the baby rumors were blatantly "not true."
Dragana Jovanovic contributed reporting from Belgrade.
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