The 10-day disappearance that sparked a thousand memes has come to an end. Russian President Vladimir Putin appeared in public Monday at a meeting in St. Petersburg with Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atambayev. Referring to the rumors of the past week, which included illness, death, plastic surgery, coup d’etat, and the birth of his love child, Putin said, “things would be boring without gossip.”
Atambayev affirmed after the meeting that Putin had taken him for a drive and that “he’s in excellent form.” No explanation was given for why Putin canceled a planned trip to Kazakhstan and a regular meeting with the FSB last week.
Putin certainly knows how to make a dramatic reappearance. Shortly before the meeting, he ordered massive new military operations in the Arctic involving 40,000 servicemen. Also, in a prerecorded interview aired Sunday timed to the one-year anniversary of the annexation of Crimea, the president said for the first time that he had been prepared to put Russian nuclear forces on alert a year ago.
Putin’s absence came during a particularly politically fraught period following the killing of opposition leader Boris Nemtsov, which has reportedly sparked some acrimony within Putin’s inner circle. As some of the coverage early in the disappearance noted, Putin has dropped out of sight following other crises, including the sinking of the Kursk submarine in 2000 and the Moscow theater siege in 2002.
Putin did look a bit sweatier and puffier than normal in the footage of his meeting with Atambayev, and it still seems likely that he’s been under the weather and the Kremlin wanted to avoid projecting weakness at a time of crisis. (Given the speculation about Putin’s condition over the past week, that seems like a dubious strategy.) If there was something more dramatic going on behind the scenes, we probably won’t hear about it as long as he’s in power.