Questions continued to swirl about Russian President Vladimir Putin’s possible declining health Tuesday, as his face appeared puffy at an awards ceremony for the county’s Beijing Olympians.
Putin was noticeably bloated as he posed for photographs at the event with figure skater Kamila Valieva, whose campaign at the Winter Games was overshadowed by a doping controversy.
While at the awards ceremony, Putin claimed that the Russian and Belarusian Paralympians — removed from the Beijing Paralympic Games after Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24 — were subjected to discrimination based on nationality.
“The suspension of athletes from Russia and Belarus not only directly violated the fundamental principles of sport but their most basic human rights were… openly, cynically violated,” Putin said.
Putin’s physical state has been the subject of considerable speculation after he was seen last week looking swollen and awkwardly gripping a table for support in a clip released by the Kremlin from a meeting with Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu.
The strongman also appeared unsteady during an Orthodox Easter service in Moscow – though some reports suggested that he wasn’t even there and that the video was doctored by the Kremlin.
The White House on Monday refused to speculate on Putin’s health.
When asked about the rumors, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said she did not have “any assessment to offer from here or any particular comment” on Putin’s health.
A video posted on the Twitter page Visegrad 24 showed him before a recent meeting with Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko. He is seen holding up his hand, which appears to be shaking until he presses it against his chest, and then walking awkwardly toward Lukashenko and embracing him.
Former UK politician Louise Mensch said last week’s footage appeared to back earlier reports that “Vladimir Putin has Parkinson’s disease.”
Other reports have suggested that Putin has recently had 35 secret meetings with a cancer doctor — and has become so paranoid about his health that he has turned to unconventional therapies.
The Russian leader is said to bathe in blood extracted from deer antlers, which are hacked off while they are growing and still full of fresh blood, according to Russian investigative outlet The Project.
The Kremlin has denied any allegations that Putin is in poor health.
Putin’s photo-op with Valieva on Tuesday comes after he suggested her performances could not have been achieved with the help of any banned substances.
“Through her work, she brought the sport to the level of a real form of art,” he said at the Kremlin.
“Such perfection cannot be achieved dishonestly with the help of additional substances, manipulations. We very well know that these additional substances are not needed in figure skating,” he added.
The athlete, who turned 16 on Tuesday, missed out on a medal in the women’s singles event at the Beijing Winter Olympics after she had been cleared to compete despite testing positive for a banned substance in late December.
The result of her test was only revealed on Feb. 8, a day after she had already helped the Russian Olympic Committee win the team event.
The Court of Arbitration for Sport allowed her to continue competing at the Games, citing her young age, though without clearing her of doping. In the individual final, Valieva fell several times and finished in fourth place.