SAINT PETERSBURG - President Vladimir Putin was due to reappear in public on Monday after an unusually long 10-day absence that unleashed frenzied speculation about the whereabouts and health of the Russian strongman.
Putin is scheduled to meet with Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atambayev in Saint Petersburg later Monday, and a Kremlin official confirmed to AFP that the meeting was on track to take place.
Putin, 62, was last seen in public on March 5 at a news conference with Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi.
Last week he cancelled a number of scheduled events including a trip to the Central Asian country of Kazakhstan and the planned signing of an alliance agreement with the breakaway region of South Ossetia.
His unusually long absence from the public eye has unleashed a frenzy of speculation on the reasons for the absence, including that the Russian leader has once again become a father, has been deposed in a palace coup, fallen ill, had cosmetic surgery, or had died.
Morbid jokes and gags spread like wildfire on Russian social networks - the last bastion of free speech in Russia - and the hashtag #Putinumer (#Putindead) trended on Twitter.
His spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Putin was in good health, dismissing the rumours as "March madness." Independent internet TV channel Dozhd (Rain) said on Sunday, quoting sources, said the Russian president had been knocked down by the flu and retreated to his residence on Lake Valdai in the north.
Russia this week marks the one-year anniversary of a hastily-arranged referendum in Crimea that led to Russia annexing the Black Sea peninsula from Ukraine.
Putin said in a documentary broadcast Sunday that Russia was ready to put its nuclear forces on alert over Crimea.