(photo credit: REUTERS)
STRELNA - Russian President Vladimir Putin laughed off suggestions he had been forced to lie low because of poor health, saying on Monday that life would be "boring without gossip."
In a carefully choreographed double-act, Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atambayev also vouched for the Russian leader's health, saying that Putin "just now drove me around the grounds, he himself sat at the wheel" after they met in St. Petersburg.
Putin smiled easily as he sat before television cameras in the Constantine Palace in Russia's second city in his first public appearance since March 5.
"It would be boring without gossip," Putin, looking relaxed if pale, told reporters.
Putin's absence from public view, a rare occurrence in Russia's largely state-controlled media, had triggered a number of theories about the leader, ranging from him suffering poor health to being toppled in a palace coup by security hawks.
The Russian leader, 62, prides himself on a macho image, saying in 2008 he worked like a "galley slave" to run Russia.