Russian President Vladimir Putin has not been seen in public for more than a week, The New York Times reports. Is he sick? Is he dead? Is he in Switzerland with his pregnant Olympic gymnast mistress for the birth of his third, unconfirmed child? Certainly not. (But maybe!)
Since his last public appearance on March 5th, with the prime minister of Italy, Putin has cancelled a trip to Kazakhstan, a treating signing with South Ossetia, and failed to make an appearance at an annual meeting of top intelligence officials. Naturally, rumors abound.
According to the Times, a Swiss tabloid reported that Putin had accompanied his mistress, Olympic gymnastics medalist Alina Kabayeva "to give birth in a clinic in Switzerland's Ticino canton favored by the family of Silvio Berlusconi, the former Italian prime minister." Andrei Illarionov, a former presidential advisor, reportedly wrote a blog post theorizing that Putin was being held after a palace coup endorsed by the Russian Orthodox Church.
The Kremlin has not offered an explanation for Putin's disappearance from the public eye, although state television did air footage of the president working from his office. They did, however, appear to have doctored his schedule to make it seem as though he made appearances on days that he had not, a move with Soviet overtones:
The daily newspaper RBC reported that a meeting with the governor of the northwestern region of Karelia, pictured on the presidential website as taking place on March 11, actually occurred on March 4, when a local website there wrote about it. A meeting with a group of women shown as March 8 actually happened on March 6, RBC said.
The simplest explanation is that he's sick—there is a particularly virulent strain of the flu going around the Russian capital right now. But the Kremlin denies that Putin has taken ill: asked by Reuters to confirm that the president was healthy, spokesman Dmitry Peskov said, "Yes. We've already said this a hundred times. This isn't funny anymore."
[Photo credit: AP Images]