Russian President Vladimir Putin made his first public appearance in 11 days, an absence that prompted intense speculation about his health, as he held talks in St. Petersburg with his Kyrgyz counterpart Almazbek Atambayev.
“It would be boring without gossip,” Putin said on Monday in response to the rumors, according to RIA Novosti.
The meeting ended Putin’s longest disappearance from public view in more than two years, sparking the most speculation about his health since he scrapped or postponed five foreign trips in late 2012. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said repeatedly that Putin, 62, was in good health after he canceled several meetings and delayed a planned summit in Kazakhstan last week. Putin hadn’t been seen in public since he met Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi in Moscow on March 5.
Russian markets remained unperturbed by the president’s absence and by his return. The yield on the government’s bond due in March 2030 was up five basis points at 5.49 percent and the ruble strengthened 0.1 percent at 62.2090 per dollar at 1:51 p.m. in Moscow. The Micex Index retreated 0.4 percent to 1,620.95, while the MosPrime overnight rate dropped to 14.17 percent, the lowest since Dec. 15.
Putin’s re-emergence came hours after he ordered troops to be placed on full combat readiness in snap drills in western Russia. Russia is facing “new challenges and threats,” Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said on Monday, according to the Interfax news service, as he announced exercises involving 38,000 troops, 41 warships, 15 submarines and 110 aircraft.
The president’s return also coincided with the first anniversary of a disputed referendum held in Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula on joining Russia. Putin disclosed in a Russian television documentary broadcast on Sunday that he was ready to put nuclear forces on alert when he authorized the annexation of Crimea two days later, on March 18 last year, triggering the worst crisis in relations with the U.S. and Europe since the Cold War.
The “illegal annexation of Crimea” is a “direct challenge to international security,” European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said in a statement on Monday. The EU “does not recognize and continues to condemn this act of violation of international law,” she said, and it “remains firmly committed to Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
© Copyright 2023 Bloomberg News. All rights reserved.