Russia's Putin reappears after 10 day absence
Vladimir Putin has reappeared after 10 unexplained days out of public view.
The 62-year-old leader met the president of Kyrgyzstan at a lavish Tsarist-era palace outside St Petersburg in his first appearance since Feb. 5. His absence had fuelled rumours he was ill, had been overthrown by the army or had even flown abroad to attend the birth of a love child.
"It would be boring without gossip," Putin said, smiling easily before television cameras. He looked relaxed, if pale.
His spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, mocked the press for its interest, referring sarcastically to the various rumours: "So you've seen the broken, paralysed president, who has been captured by generals? He's only just flown in from Switzerland, where he attended a birth as you know."
In a choreographed double-act, Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atambayev vouched for the Russian leader's health, saying that Putin "just now drove me around the grounds; he himself sat at the wheel."
Putin's return to public view coincided with Russia's biggest military exercises since ties with the West sank to a post-Cold War low over the Ukraine crisis.
Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said Putin had ordered nearly 40,000 troops to be at combat readiness for exercises in Russia's Arctic North and elsewhere, which appeared meant to dwarf war games in neighbouring NATO-member Norway.