Kremlin plays down new bout of Putin health worries

The Kremlin on Friday insisted President Vladimir Putin was in good physical shape and able to work normally, after reports that he had put off a visit by the Japanese premier raised new concerns about his health.

Russia's President Vladimir Putin speaks as he meets parliament factions leaders at his Novo-Ogaryovo residence outside Moscow, on November 30. The Kremlin on Friday insisted Putin was in good physical shape and able to work normally, after reports that he had put off a visit by the Japanese premier raised new concerns about his health.

Sources in Tokyo said the Kremlin cancelled upcoming talks with the Japanese prime minister due to Putin's health, which has been the subject of repeated speculation since he was spotted limping in September.

"I ask you not to be concerned. Not to worry. Everything is fine with his health," said Kremlin chief of staff Sergei Ivanov, quoted by Russian news agencies.

"He had a minor sports injury," he said in Vienna. "No one is immune from sports injuries."

State television showed Putin later in the day holding a working meeting at his Novo-Ogaryovo residence outside Moscow with leaders of parliamentary parties.

Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the visit of Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda to Moscow was "never scheduled definitively" and expressed hope it would occur in January.

"We hope that this visit will take place and assume that it will happen in the second half of January," Peskov told the ITAR-TASS news agency.

A Japanese government source told AFP Friday that Russian officials informed the Japanese side of the cancellation of the meeting due to Putin's unspecified health problem.

Media in Japan also said that a mayor of a northern Japanese town quoted Prime Minister Noda as saying "President Putin's health condition is bad."

Putin's foreign policy advisor Yuri Ushakov said no final date for the visit had ever been agreed and it was "unethical" of the Japanese side to have raised the question of dates publicly.

Peskov also gave an interview to mass-circulation newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda, calling the rumours of Putin's health problems "blown out of proportion."

"He is working as before, and plans to continue working at the same pace. He is also not planning to stop his sports activities, and, as any athlete, he may sometimes have pain in his back, or arm, or leg -- this has never affected his work efficiency," Peskov said.

The globe-trotting Russian strongman, 60, has travelled actively ever since embarking on his historic third term in the Kremlin in May, but he has not ventured outside the country since an official visit to Tajikistan on October 5.

He has also held working meetings increasingly at his out-of-town Novo-Ogaryovo residence rather than the Kremlin, although aides say this is to minimise the traffic disruption caused when his security convoy comes to Moscow.

This week the Kremlin confirmed that Putin will be visiting Turkey next Monday, and he is also expected to make trips to Turkmenistan, Brussels and India in the coming month.

Putin's aides have already confirmed he was suffering from a sports injury when he hosted the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Vladivostok in September.

Explanations for the problem have ranged from a bad fall during a bout of his favourite sport judo or aggravating an old problem during his much-ridiculed hang-glider flight in September.

Putin's strongman reputation has been built on an image of masculine strength and physical prowess helped by stunts like horse-riding half-naked and driving a Formula One car.

Pro-opposition political analyst Dmitry Oreshkin said the frenzy surrounding Putin’s health was a consequence of the amount of power concentrated around one man.

“This is a painful topic, as the whole situation is painful,” he said.

“If you make a 'national leader' out of someone, then this gets accompanied by hysterical reactions, including from the authorities themselves, and no one can acknowledge that the leader is sick.”

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