Ex-Soviet summit postponed amid worries over Putin's health
MOSCOW/MINSK (Reuters) - A summit of leaders of ex-Soviet states scheduled for the start of November has been postponed, an official said on Friday, amid talk that Russian President Vladimir Putin is suffering from back trouble.
The Executive Committee of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), a loose group created as the Soviet Union broke apart in 1991, said earlier this month the summit was due to take place in Turkmenistan on November 2.
"The (new) dates are being confirmed. They are being agreed with all the presidents," said CIS spokeswoman Vera Yakubovskaya. She declined to give any reason for the postponement.
The Kremlin dismissed talk that Putin had been sidelined from foreign trips after government sources told Reuters he was suffering from back trouble that could require surgery.
The sources said the Russian leader's schedule was being cleared for early November, including the postponement until late December of a trip to India that had been expected soon.
Putin, a judo black belt who is known for stunts that show off his physical prowess throughout his almost 13 years in power, was first seen limping in September when he hosted an Asia-Pacific summit in Russia's Far East.
Putin's spokesman said at the time his boss had pulled a leg muscle.
A recent documentary showed him swimming long distances, working out in a gym and eating raw quail eggs and cream cheese for breakfast.
The former KGB officer could rule Russia until May 2024, according to the constitution.
"LIFE BRINGS CHANGES"
Speculation increased when Putin failed to travel to Pakistan for a four-nation summit on Afghanistan this month or to make an expected trip to Turkey. None of these trips had been officially announced by the Kremlin.
"Many dates which the media reported as fixed were in fact not fixed. Life brings changes and it concerns plans for visits. A lot of information has been misinterpreted by the media," Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich told reporters.
On Friday Putin sent a video message to participants of a Congress of Compatriots in St. Petersburg, attended by Russians who live abroad.
Putin, who turned 60 this month, made ties with neighboring ex-Soviet states his priority when he returned to the Kremlin in May for a third presidential term.
A decree issued hours after his swearing-in called for closer integration of the ex-Soviet space a "key foreign policy direction" and reiterated plans for a Eurasian Economic Union, based on a Customs Union with Kazakhstan and Belarus.
Putin hosted CIS leaders in the Kremlin a week after his inauguration, making it the first major international event of his new term in office. He traveled to ex-Soviet Belarus before going to Europe.
(Reporting by Gleb Bryanski; editing by Andrew Roche)
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