The White House didn’t want to touch rumors about the health or whereabouts of Russian President Vladimir Putin despite it being the first question from the White House press corps aboard Air Force One today.
Putin was supposed to go to Kazakhstan this week to meet in Astana with President Nursultan Nazarbayev and Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, but a Kazakh official told Reuters, “The visit has been cancelled. It looks like he has fallen ill.” It was also reported that a Wednesday ceremony to formally ink an annexation agreement between Moscow and South Ossetia was canceled.
In typical Kremlin fashion, Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said his boss is not only well but “his handshake is so strong he breaks hands with it.”
The Kremlin today released footage of Putin meeting with the leader of the country’s Supreme Court, but Russian networks didn’t note if the footage was from today. The Kremlin also said he’ll meet with Kyrgyzstan President Almazbek Atambayev on Monday and with South Ossetia leader Leonid Tibilov on Wednesday.
Rumors behind Putin’s weeklong disappearance have ranged from a stroke to cancer to the flu or cosmetic procedures.
“I have enough trouble keeping track of the whereabouts of one world leader. I would refer you to the Russians for questions on theirs. I’m sure they’ll be very responsive,” White House spokesman Eric Schultz said when pressed by reporters today.
“I would also tell you that the president has been briefed on world events on a regular basis. I don’t have any specific briefings to read out to you on this.”
“You can’t say whether or not the president has been briefed about these questions that have been swirling about the whereabouts of a world leader that’s probably one of the most important in the world?” a reporter asked.
“The president is briefed on world events as situations warrant, but I don’t have any specific conversations — I would not assume anything beyond what I’m able to tell you,” Schultz said.
“So is the U.S. government operating under the assumption that Vladimir Putin is alive?” the press secretary was asked.
“I’d say so, yes,” Schultz responded.
At the State Department, press secretary Jen Psaki didn’t answer a question about where Putin is.
“I believe the Kremlin has spoken to this, so I would point you to that,” Psaki said. “I don’t have any more information, no.”
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