Vladimir Putin announced he was dodging his annual set piece press conference in Moscow today (Monday, December 12), sparking fresh health fears.
The move will raise new speculation about his health and appears aimed to avoid him being quizzed about Russian war failures in Ukraine.
The major end-of-year session usually takes place between December 14 and 23 — but the Kremlin today announced it will not go ahead.
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At the annual press conference, he routinely faces questions from 500-plus Russian and foreign journalists in a major event that is televised live and can last more than four hours.
The decision to cancel the conference came even though reports suggest he had already decided that Western media should be banned from the event amid the war in Ukraine.
The move suggests he is not even ready to face Russian journalists in the glare of a major live event and be openly quizzed about his war.
His spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Putin would find a way to communicate with the Kremlin “pool” — mainly loyalist journalists, many from the state media — despite aborting the live session which was one of the highlights of his year.
He also indicated a press conference could take place in the New Year but gave no specified date or format.
Putin had earlier postponed his annual live Direct Line question and answer session with ordinary Russians amid evident concerns he would face complaints over the war and his chaotic mobilisation, with estimates of 100,000-plus of his people dead or wounded.
Peskov also failed to give a date for Putin to address the senate — or Federation Council — which is a formal annual duty under the constitution.
The announcement will fuel suspicions that Putin is running scared of scrutiny of his handling of the war which he calls a special military operation, or that at the age of 70 he is not sufficiently healthy to endure the long sessions when he is under the world's gaze amid a string of rumours surrounding his health.
Peskov said: "As for the big press conference – yes there won’t be any until the New Year.
“We do, however, expect the president will find a way to communicate….with the Kremlin Pool."
Putin is also not to host a New Year celebration, Peskov announced.
There has been significant speculation about Putin's medical condition including persistent — but unproven — rumours that he is suffering from cancer, and other conditions.
There are also rumours that he underwent minor surgery at the weekend after an alleged fall down the stairs at an official residence.
The Kremlin denied he suffered a fall in which he soiled himself.
He had expected Ukraine to be overrun within days but the conflict has now been underway for almost 10 months, with little success for Putin.
The press conference with Putin has been held annually in December for a decade.
In 2019, a record 1,895 journalists were accredited.
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