Rumours continue to swirl about the Russian president’s apparent vanishing act amid claims his long-denied girlfriend has given birth.
The Kremlin has consistently denied any relationship between 62-year-old Vladimir Putin and former Olympic gymnast Alina Kabayeva, 31.
The Russian leader, who remains the country’s most popular politician, enjoying – according to a state broadcaster – an approval rating of 88 per cent, has been unusually silent in the past week, prompting a flurry of speculation over his whereabouts.
The latest theory is that Mr Putin, who formally divorced his first wife Lyudmila in 2014, had flown to Swiss Clinic Sant'Anna to witness the birth of his child, RIA news agency claimed.
Reports that Ms Kabayeva had checked into the exclusive clinic near Lugano last week could not be confirmed – and the Kremlin denied the former politician had given birth, The Daily Telegraph reported.
Ms Kabayeva, one of the most decorated gymnasts in the history of rhythmic gymnastics, became a Russian MP in 2005, holding the title of State Duma deputy from 2007 to 2014.
Both her and Mr Putin have denied long-standing rumours of a relationship between the pair, but this has not prevented widespread speculation in the Russian media – culminating in 2008 when reports claimed there were plans for the pair to marry following Mr Putin’s retirement from government.
Mr Putin and Ms Kabayeva separately scotched the news article with Mr Putin claiming “there was not a single word of truth” in it.
The Russian leader’s relationship is just the latest in a series of rumours speculating over his disappearance.
Another popular claim is that Mr Putin has fallen ill. The rumours were sparked after the Russian leader postponed a trip to Kazakhstan, with a Kazakh government official telling Reuters news agency: “It looks like he has fallen ill.”
But these allegations have been repeatedly denied by Kremlin officials, who yesterday released pictures of the Russian leader meeting with Russian Supreme Court Chairman Vyacheslav Lebedev.
Asked by Reuters to confirm Mr Putin's good health, his personal spokesman Dmitry Peskov said: "Yes. We've already said this a hundred times. This isn't funny any more."
The spokesperson has also vehemently denied that Mr Putin was attending the bedside of his girlfriend and newborn child.
Additional reporting by Reuters
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies