An unusual rumor spread in Russia this week, amid a flurry of canceled appearances by President Vladimir Putin, that he was seriously ill or even dead. Perhaps to quell the rumors that had spread from one end of the internets to the other, Putin made an appearance early Friday.
Prior to that, his last public appearance had been on March 5, in a public meeting with Italy’s prime minister. In the ensuing 8 days, the Kremlin’s press office shared images of Putin at events. But these had the paradoxical effect of fueling speculation that the leader had shuffled off this mortal coil because all of the images turned out to have all taken place before March 5.
On Wednesday, Putin’s office canceled an upcoming trip to Astana, the capital of Kazakhstan, and on Thursday he was missing from a security meeting, which he usually attends.
A Kazakh official even told Reuters that Putin was ill, which Kremlin spokesman Dmitri Peskov denied, telling a Russian radio station that the 62-year-old president was so fit that a handshake from him “could break your hand.”
As a result of the rumors, Russian Google searches for “Putin” now auto-complete to “Putin is dead,” and a matching Twitter hashtag has sprung up, accompanied by the obligatory jokes and manipulated photos. A website asking “Is Putin Dead?” offers a panoply of answers, including “No, that’s not why it stinks in Moscow” and “Look out the window — are people celebrating… setting off fireworks? No? Then he’s not dead yet.”
But an initial wave of guessing have way to an even larger tidal wave of more guessing. One popular theory was that Putin was recovering from plastic surgery. Other leaped to the conclusion he was reshuffling the government behind closed doors. The Daily Beast topped them all, writing in a headline, “Is Putin in Switzerland for Birth Of Secret Love Child?”
The question became so pervasive in Europe that the Kremlin’s Peskov had to deny it specifically, joking, “I am planning to appeal to people who have money to organize a competition for the best journalistic hoax.” Instead, the spokesman claimed, Putin has simply been overwhelmed with paperwork and private meetings.
Though current photographs of the president have still not surfaced, Peskov was ready with an explanation: Spring is in the air. “As soon as the sun comes out… and it starts smelling of spring, people start getting delusions,” he reportedly told the TASS news agency.
This report, by Ivan Plis, was cross-posted by arrangement with the Daily Caller News Foundation.