Although the Internet was ablaze with speculation and jokes about why Russian President Vladimir Putin hasn’t been seen in public for more than a week, the country’s presidential spokesman says there’s no truth to the rumors.
Putin’s just fine, according to the Kremlin.
Spokesman Dmitry Peskov says those who are spreading rumors about Putin’s health may have come down with “spring fever” themselves, according to the Russian news agency TASS.
“When the sun comes up in spring, and as soon as spring is in the air, then the fever begins,” he said. “We are calm on this fever, and respond to the questions with patience.”
On Friday, the Kremlin released photos of a meeting between Putin and Supreme Court Chairman Vyacheslav Lebedev that it says occurred Friday outside Moscow. A Russian broadcaster aired the meeting as well, CNN reported.
The last confirmed public sighting of Putin, according to The New York Times, was March 5, when he met with Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi.
The Times adds:
“[Putin] canceled a trip to Kazakhstan; postponed a treaty signing with representatives from South Ossetia who were reportedly told not to bother to come to Moscow; and, unusually, was absent from a meeting of top officials from the F.S.B., Russia’s domestic intelligence service.”
After the Kazakhstan trip was cancelled, an anonymous Kazakh government source told Reuters, “It looks like [Putin] has fallen ill.”
Peskov denied those rumors, telling news outlets that Putin was “perfectly healthy.”
The Russian leader’s next public appearance is set for Monday, when he’s scheduled to meet with the president of Kyrgyzstan in St. Petersburg.
Similar speculation swirled around North Korean leader Kim Jong Un last October, when he was out of the public eye for more than a month, as we reported. And last month, Cuba released photos of Fidel Castro to put to rest rumors that he had died.
Quartz posits that such rumors often stem from feelings of powerlessness:
“[E]ven when nothing stands out as extraordinarily suspicious — a missed meeting, or even two, isn’t that much in the grand scheme of a president’s calendar — research shows people at the bottom of the pile are most able to weave meaning and motive into what little information is available. Our brains perceive illusory patterns in everything from images to stock market information, concluded University of Texas researchers in 2008, when we lack control.”