Russian President Vladimir Putin has resurfaced and is looking healthy after a 10-day absence from public view.
The 62-year-old Russian leader was last seen in public on March 5, when he hosted Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi.
The Kremlin insisted that he continued holding official meetings and released photos and video of Mr Putin at meetings on national television, but Russian media suggested the images had actually been shot much earlier.
Mr Putin’s decision abruptly to postpone a trip to Kazakhstan planned for last week fuelled speculation that he was unwell – claims the Kremlin denied.
Mr Putin yesterday met with Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atanbayev in St Petersburg’s ornate Konstantin Palace.
There was nothing in his appearance that indicated any obvious health problems.
Meanwhile, the Russian military has launched massive military manoeuvres in the Arctic, part of its effort to expand its presence in the polar region.
Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said the drills will involve 38,000 servicemen, more than 50 surface ships and submarines and 110 aircraft.
He said in a statement carried by the Russian news agencies that Mr Putin had ordered the manoeuvres to check the readiness of Russia’s Northern Fleet and the military’s ability to deploy additional forces from central Russia.
The exercise comes amid Russia-West tensions over Ukraine. The United States is planning to conduct joint exercises with forces from Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania later this month.
Mr Shoigu said that “the new challenges and threats require further increase of the armed forces’ capabilities”.
Mr Putin has said Russia was so fearful of attack at the height of the Ukraine crisis that it was preparing to arm its nuclear weapons, in extraordinary claims aired on state TV on Sunday night.
In the documentary, which marks a year since the referendum that saw Russia take control of Crimea, Mr Putin described the Ukrainian revolution to oust Viktor Yanukovych in February 2014 as a coup “masterminded by our American friends”.