Moscow, 25 Jumadil Awwal 1436/16 March 2015 (MINA) – Russian President Vladimir Putin appeared in public Monday for the first time since March 5, brushing off speculation about his health a few hours after he ordered nearly 40,000 troops to be put on full alert as part of snap readiness exercises.
Mr. Putin’s appearance with his Kyrgyz counterpart in St. Petersburg follows 10 days of intense speculation over his whereabouts after he didn’t appear in public and postponed a summit.
Sitting alongside Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atambayev at the Constantine Palace, a smiling Mr. Putin told reporters, “It’s boring without gossip,” The Wall Street Journal quoted by Mi’raj Islamic News Agency (MINA) as reporting.
Mr. Atambayev said Mr. Putin had driven him around Monday. “Russia’s president isn’t just walking, he’s speeding around, driving guests around,” he said.
Earlier Monday, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said Mr. Putin had ordered the military exercises, involving Russia’s Northern Fleet as well as airborne and other troops in the west of the country.
The maneuvers are the latest in a series of such checks in recent years and follow dozens of military exercises conducted over the past year since the start of the Ukraine crisis.
The main focus is to test readiness in the Arctic, where Russia has expanded its military presence in recent years, officials said. The exercises are scheduled to continue through to March 21.
“New challenges and threats to military security require further increases in the military capabilities of the armed forces and special attention to the newly formed strategic group in the northern direction,” Mr. Shoigu said, according to state news agencies.
Western officials have criticized Russia’s frequent exercises as threatening and provocative, a charge Moscow parries with its own allegations that military maneuvers near Russia’s borders by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization are destabilizing.
‘New challenges and threats to military security require further increases in the military capabilities of the armed forces and special attention to the newly formed strategic group in the northern direction.’ Said Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu.
Also on Monday, the Kremlin said that Mr. Putin will travel to Kazakhstan on Friday for a summit with Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev and Belarus leader Alexander Lukashenko.
That meeting had originally been scheduled for March 12-13, but the Kremlin abruptly announced the day before that it was to be rescheduled for an unspecified future date. At the time, the Kremlin gave no explanation for the sudden schedule change.
In recent days, the Kremlin had repeatedly refused to explain Mr. Putin’s absence from the public eye, saying that he was feeling fine and working in private. (T/P010/P3)
Mi’raj Islamic News Agency (MINA)