March 12, 2015 / 10:56 AM / 2 years ago

Kremlin says Putin healthy, dismisses illness rumors

Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a meeting with Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi at the Kremlin in Moscow, March 5, 2015.Sergei Karpukhin

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russian President Vladimir Putin is in good health, the Kremlin said on Thursday, dismissing rumors that the leader was suffering from an illness after a foreign trip was canceled.

A Kazakh governmental source said Putin's trip to Astana scheduled for this week was canceled because Putin had fallen ill, stirring speculation on social media that something had happened to the 62-year-old leader.

Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, asked by Reuters if the president was in good health, replied "yes".

"He has meetings all the time," he said by telephone. "He has meetings today, tomorrow. I don't know which ones we will make public."

Russian politics, through the Soviet era and beyond, has traditionally been fertile ground for rumor because of the secrecy surrounding leaders, not least their health.

The daily RBK said Putin had not been seen on live television since a March 5 meeting with Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi. Photographs on the Kremlin website showed him at meetings dated March 10 and March 11.

On Wednesday, Putin was due to meet a delegation of officials from Georgia's breakaway region of South Ossetia.

"They didn't take off," said an official familiar with the arrangements. "They headed out in the morning but did not make it to the plane because they were told it was postponed."

The meeting had been rescheduled for March 18.

FIRM HAND

Markets shrugged off the rumors about Putin, and the rouble was trading slightly stronger on Thursday.

The last time Putin's health was in the spotlight was in 2012. Three sources told Reuters that Putin, seen limping in public, was suffering back pain. The Kremlin denied any such ailment.

Putin was not the only subject of rumor on Wednesday.

The editor in chief of Nezavisimaya newspaper tweeted late on Wednesday that he had been told that Putin's ally Igor Sechin, the chief executive officer of Rosneft (ROSN.MM) Russia's largest oil producer, would be fired on Thursday.

A Rosneft spokesman described the remark as wrong.

Peskov, asked by Ekho Moskvy if the president's handshake remained firm, answered: "handbreakingly so."

"Some people are dreaming of Sechin's resignation, some of the resignation of the government and some haven't seen president Putin for several days on television," Peskov told Tass news agency.

Reporting by Maria Kiselyova, Vladimir Soldatkin, Lidia Kelly and Denis Dyomkin, Writing by Thomas Grove; editing by Ralph Boulton

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