Vladimir Putin returns to public but illness rumours continue over 'pale', 'puffy' and 'sweaty' face

The Kremlin has continually denied rumours of sickness and surgery

Vladimir Putin made a triumphant return to the public eye on Monday, laughing off “gossip” about ill health as he posed for the cameras with the President of Kyrgyzstan.

But the PR effort has done little to allay the swirling rumours, providing no definitive reason for the President’s vanishing act and the last-minute cancellation of several international engagements last week.

Reporters who saw Mr Putin today continued suggestions of illness with claims that the fishing, shooting, topless horse-riding leader did not look as fit as normal.

“There was nothing in his appearance that indicated any obvious health problems" the Reuters news agency reported, while AFP said he looked “somewhat pale”.

Others described Mr Putin as “sweaty”, “shiny”, “puffy” and “ill-looking” during the engagement.

Jason Corcoran, a reporter for Bloomberg News, said he appeared as if he were suffering from the flu and was “puffy, sniffling and sweating”.

Leonid Ragozin, a Moscow based journalist, said the President’s face looked like he had “gained some weight”.

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Vladimir Putin meets Kyrgyz' President Almazbek Atambayev in the Konstantinovsky Palace outside St. Petersburg

Judi James, a “body language expert” analysed his stance for MailOnline after viewing today’s footage.

She said: "Putin's face looks shiny and although the smile is held in place his eye expression lacks some of its normal steel and arrogance.

“His stride has most of its normal energy, but his left arm could be showing signs of weakness.

“In some poses it hangs lifelessly down at his side and when he sits he appears to support it with his right hand, although he can clearly use it as he shows when he unbuttons his jacket.”

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Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Kyrgyz counterpart Almazbek Atambayev attend a meeting in Saint Petersburg

Some onlookers believing they discerned a change in the President’s face suggested he may have disappeared for plastic surgery, following years of unconfirmed rumours about facelifts and Botox.

The Russian leader had not been seen for 10 days in a sudden disappearance that caused a week of intense speculation around the world.

Conspiracy theorists claimed his death had been covered up or even orchestrated by the secret services, loyalists raised concerns of a coup, a Swiss tabloid sensationally reported he escaped to witness the birth of his love child and others suggested Mr Putin might just have been suffering with a cold.

But the 62-year-old attempted to laugh off rumours about his ill health today, quipping that life “would be boring without gossip” as he met Almazbek Atambayev.

His Kyrgyz counterpart swiftly vouched for his ally in front of journalists assembled at the lavish Constantine Palace, near St Petersburg.

He said Mr Putin “just now drove me around the grounds, he himself sat at the wheel”.

“The President of Russia not only walks, but speeds around,” he added.

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Russian President Vladimir Putin welcomes Kyrgyz' President Almazbek Atambayev

Dmitry Peskov, Mr Putin’s official spokesperson, ridiculed the media response by joking: “So you've seen the broken, paralysed president, who has been captured by generals? He's only just flown in from Switzerland, where he attended a birth as you know.”

If the drama of his sudden reappearance was not enough, Mr Putin chose today as the start of a five-day series of huge military exercises throughout Russia.

More than 40,000 troops, 41 warships, 15 submarines and 110 aircraft have been mobilised in one of the Kremlin's biggest displays of military power since the Ukraine crisis plunged relations with the West to depths not seen since the Cold War.

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