MOSCOW - Speculation is swirling in Russia about the state of Vladimir Putin's health, as an unusual spell outside the public eye fuels the rumor mill. On Thursday, the Russian president's spokesman sought to quash such talk, saying in an interview that Putin's health is "really perfect."
Dmitry Peskov told the Associated Press that Putin, 62, has a busy agenda in the coming days, including some international meetings. He said that next week the president is set to make a trip to Kazakhstan, which had been planned for this week but abruptly postponed.
The Russian leader was last seen in public on March 5, when he hosted Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, before falling out of sight for a week - a highly unusual absence. The Kremlin insisted that the president had a few other official meetings in the following days, but some Russian media contested that and claimed they had actually taken place earlier.
Peskov rejected the allegations, and insisted that the Russian leader was keeping his usual busy schedule.
"There is absolutely no reason for any doubts about the state of his health," Peskov said. "His health is really perfect, everything is OK with him, and he's working in accordance with his traditionally overloaded working schedule."
Putin's conspicuous disappearance from the public eye comes at a turbulent moment in Russia's domestic politics. Last week, Russia's security agencies arrested five men suspected of involvement in the Feb. 27 killing of top opposition figure Boris Nemtsov, who was shot dead on a bridge near the Kremlin.
The suspected triggerman was a former senior officer in Chechnya's police force, and the region's Moscow-backed leader, Ramzan Kadyrov, defiantly described the suspect as a brave soldier and deeply religious man who wouldn't do any harm to Russia. A day after the arrests were announced, Putin awarded Kadyrov with one of Russia's highest medals, a move widely seen as an attempt to assuage the feisty Chechen strongman.