Vladimir Putin is definitely not dead, Kremlin insists

Vladimir Putin

The Kremlin has been forced to deny that Russian President Vladimir Putin has died – after he cancelled a string of public appearances.

The Russian leader – who first came to power nearly 15 years ago – sent the rumour mill into overdrive this week after he backed out of a string of public appearances.

He has not been seen in public since meeting the Italian Prime Minister on March 5, leading some to worry for his health.

The President had been due to visit Kazakhstan to hold talks with the country’s President Nursultan Nazarbayev and Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenk – but the plans were put on hold.

A source within Kazakhstan claimed that the trip was put on hold due to Putin’s ill health – but the Kremlin has been swift to deny anything is wrong with the leader – who signed Russia’s anti-gay law in 2013.

Meetings have also been cancelled with officials from Georgia’s republic of South Ossetia, and state security service the FSB.

Press spokesman Dmitry Peskov assured people that Putin was “absolutely healthy”, adding: “No need to worry, everything is all right. He has working meetings all the time, only not all of these meetings are public.”

When asked if the President still had a firm handshake, he said: “His handshake is so strong he breaks hands with it.”

However, in seeking to deny the rumours the Kremlin has only added fuel to the fire – when doubts were cast over the authenticity of pictures purporting to show the leader in meetings this week.

Internet sleuths cast doubt on the timeline of some of the photos – noting he appeared to be wearing identical clothing as he had done a week prior, before his alleged disappearance.

Putin has previously been accused of exploiting homophobic sentiment in Russia to solidify his power in the country, signing a ‘gay propaganda’ law to stifle pro-gay dissent.