Russia's sky-diving, wolf-hunting, horseback riding president has suffered a "sports injury," according to his spokesman, but some Kremlin watchers insist something more serious is afoot.
On Thursday, Vladimir Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov sought to allay questions about the leader's seclusion at his country house (he's also postponed a series of foreign trips) with a vague explanation about a pulled muscle that occurred at some point during the strongman's rigorous exercise regiment.
“All athletes have plenty of injuries, especially those who exercise actively and every day, like Putin,” said Peskov of his very manly boss. He insisted that the injury was never a secret and hasn't hampered his work schedule. "Actually, we have never tried to conceal it because any athlete has lots of injuries, which, however, do not mean any restrictions of his activities," read a quote in Interfax.
The statement came in response to a groundswell of speculation about Putin's health, triggered in part by a Thursday report in the respected newspaper Vedomosti citing two Kremlin-linked sources saying Putin aggravated an old back problem in September after flying on a motorized hang-glider beside migrating cranes. Like all of his carefully choreographed adventure stunts, it was joyously documented for public consumption
Vedemosti cited a source saying Putin was receiving medical treatment for his back and his doctor's "main recommendation" was he lay off the flying, which could damage his spine. The September stunt followed a slew of cancellations and postponements by the president, including his appearance at the International Arctic Forum, which he's attended the last two years, and a summit of former Soviet states in Turkmenistan slated for this week.
The Vedemosti report also followed a Reuters scoop in October based on anonymous sources that Putin was suffering back problems and needs surgery. "Three government sources have told Reuters in recent days that Putin was suffering from back trouble. One said it would require surgery in the near future."
Going on the radio today, Peskov doubled-down that any speculation that this was due to a back injury or hang-glider incident was rubbish, though he did seem to slip up a bit. “There was an old injury," he said He then corrected himself: “It’s not old, just an ordinary sporting injury, Putin strained a muscle." It would obviously be a tad embarrassing if all of Putin's macho propaganda stunts proved too dangerous for the chiseled leader. But whatever the case, the guy is 60-years-old, so the fact that he can even get in the ring with his judo buddies is pretty impressive (however choreographed the fighting may be.) Will this mean the end of Putin's macho man stunts? We certainly hope not.