Is Vladimir Putin Sick Or Just On Paternity Leave?

Vladimir Putin’s absence from the public stage since March 5 has sent the rumor mill into overdrive about his health or whereabouts.

A Putin spokesman has insisted that the Russian president is perfectly healthy, but that hasn’t stopped mass media and social media speculation, including trending hashtags such as #Putinisdead and #whereisPutin.

The Kremlin today released a photo of Putin, 62, in a meeting with the chair of Russia’s supreme court, but media outlets have been so far unable to confirm that the photo is new.

A former KGB agent who enjoys near-dictatorial powers in Russia, Vladimir Putin has become a major player on the world stage for, among other things, annexing Crimea (and perhaps eventually all of Ukraine) and last year stopping Obama from bombing Syria, a military action that most of Congress and the American public also opposed. His administration is engulfed in controversy now, over the murder of political dissident Boris Y. Nemtsov.

Cultivating a macho image as an outdoorsman and martial artist, Putin has been the subject of unsubstantiated health rumors before. In an October report, he was supposedly suffering from pancreatic or spinal cancer, which was also denied by the Kremlin in Moscow.

A Pentagon think tank even theorized at one point that Putin may have Asperger’s syndrome.

According to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, some Russian media reports have suggested that Putin has suffered a stroke.

An unidentified government source in Kazakhstan, where the Russian leader canceled a visit scheduled for Wednesday, claimed that “it looks like [Putin] has fallen ill.”

“Since half of Moscow seemed to be suffering from a particularly devastating strain of flu that knocks people on their backs for days at a time, that seemed the most likely explanation,” the New York Times added.

Another possible explanation has emerged that the divorced Putin is or was actually in Switzerland with his girlfriend and their new bundle of joy. “In an article titled Es ist ein Mädchen! or ‘It’s a Girl,’ the [Swiss] paper Bilk claims that Putin and his alleged 32-year-old lover, Olympic gymnast Alina Kabayeva, welcomed their daughter at the private Santa Anna di Sorgeno clinic in the Italian-speaking canton of Ticino on the Italian border—a favorite playground for wealthy Russians,” the Daily Beast explained. “Other news outlets floated the idea that Putin’s absence could be the result of a bad plastic surgery.”

The Putin baby daddy/love child rumor has also been rejected by the Kremlin.

Radio Free Europe observed that two possible explanations could explain Putin’s disappearing act. “Either he is fine and furiously working behind the scenes to calm the clan warfare that has emerged in the wake of the Nemtsov assassination. Or Putin is truly sick and incapacitated and the recent turbulence we have witnessed… are symptoms of a highly personalized system that has lost its head.”

Do you think the missing Vladimir Putin is alive and well or do any of these health or other rumors have a basis in reality?

[Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images News]