Theories multiply like rabbits when Russia’s bare-chested warrior leader goes missing.

Dmitry Peskov's patience finally ran out. "We've already said this a hundred times, this isn't funny any more."

Vladimir Putin, Russia's strongman leader, ever-present across the past 15 years, was missing. And Peskov, his mouthpiece, was struggling to contain the story.

Apparently in sound health, Putin had not been seen in public for more than a week. Where he has been has been the subject of worldwide speculation. Whatever the answer, it is beyond doubt that there was a gaping hole in Russia for 10 days.

Tongues started wagging on Thursday, when it was announced that a summit he had been due to attend in Kazakhstan would be postponed. Peskov was forced to deny claims that his boss was ill, remarking that Putin's health was still so robust his handshake "breaks hands".


A day later, Putin, 62, missed an annual meeting of officers from the Federal Security Service - his alma mater - triggering theories that he had suffered a stroke, gone under the knife or died.

Another 24 hours passed before the Swiss tabloid Blick raised the proposition that unto Putin a child had been born, in secret, in Switzerland. It was said that Putin was at the side of a pregnant woman in Lugano all week. The mother in question? Former gymnast and Duma deputy Alina Kabaeva. "Not true," stressed Peskov to Forbes Russia.

The reports diverged on when she had given birth. Blick claimed Putin was present when his 32-year-old alleged lover gave birth. Other reports said the president had reserved two rooms at the clinic of Santa'Anna di Sorengo, one for his girlfriend and the other for her bodyguards, and had stayed with friends nearby. But Corriere del Ticino claimed Kabaeva had the baby two weeks ago and Putin "never set foot" in the clinic.

The Kremlin has regularly denied speculation of a romantic relationship between Kabaeva and Putin, who formally divorced his wife, Lyudmila, in 2014.

On Air Force One as President Barack Obama travelled to Arizona on Saturday, one hack asked White House spokesman Eric Shultz: "So, can you give us any information the United States has about President Putin's whereabouts, whether our President has been briefed on questions about the fact that he hasn't been seen in the past week and whether he may be ill or worse?" He replied: "I have enough trouble keeping track of the whereabouts of one world leader. I would refer you to the Russians for questions on theirs. I'm sure they'll be very responsive."

The Russian President's absence has had tongues wagging for more than a week. Photo / AP
The Russian President's absence has had tongues wagging for more than a week. Photo / AP

In his absence, Putin's popularity (say pro-Kremlin pollsters) has hit 88 per cent, thanks largely to his actions in Crimea and eastern Ukraine. Many seem convinced their leader is merely ill and the silence has been an attempt to maintain his image as a bare-chested, judo-wrestling horse-riding warrior.

That, also, was the view of John Lough, an associate fellow of Chatham House. "Putin has disappeared before, when he was suffering from a slipped disc from a long-standing judo injury. It's normal that he shows signs of stress, he's 62."

He added: "In Russia, nobody talks about his problems because he has the image of a tough, energetic president who doesn't get sick. As soon as rumours fly, the Kremlin doesn't do much to address them which gives rise to more rumours, which really shows how this whole operation depends on one person."

Yesterday Russian state media broadcast, then retracted, reports that Putin had hosted an official visit from the President of Kyrgyzstan.

He is actually due to meet Almazbek Atambayev tomorrow, when the mystery may be solved.

- Independent, additional reporting Telegraph Group Ltd