* Government sources say Putin has back problem
* Say cancelled foreign trips because of illness
* Kremlin admits "sports accident", denies back problem
* Putin seen in public limping, leaning forward
By Alexei Anishchuk and Gleb Bryanski
MOSCOW, Oct 25 The Kremlin on Thursday dismissed
talk that Russian President Vladimir Putin has a back problem
that prompted him to postpone foreign visits and might require
Putin, who began a six-year presidential term in May and
turned 60 on Oct. 7, was seen to be limping at an Asia-Pacific
summit in the Pacific port of Vladivostok in early September.
Putin, a former KGB officer who enjoys vast authority at the
head of Russia's so-called 'vertical' power structure, has long
cultivated a tough-guy image that wouldn't sit well with a
lengthy period on sick leave.
Three government sources have told Reuters in recent days
that Putin was suffering from back trouble. One said it would
require surgery in the near future.
Sources said the Russian leader's schedule was being cleared
for early November, including through postponement until late
December of a trip to India that had been expected soon.
"This does not correspond to reality," Putin's spokesman
Dmitry Peskov told Reuters. He said Putin did not have a back
problem and did not plan to take time off.
"You can see that he is having daily meetings," Peskov said.
He said the earlier limp had been a "sports injury".
Putin did not travel to Pakistan for a planned four-nation
summit on Afghanistan earlier this month and did not make an
expected trip to Turkey. One source said Medvedev was expected
to travel to Turkmenistan in Putin's stead next week.
"The chief is not well," said one of the sources, who spoke
on condition of anonymity. Another said Putin had been seen
recently wearing a back brace.
"No one has announced this formally, but everyone knows that
foreign visits are being cancelled because of his illness," one
Peskov denied the visits had been cancelled. He said the
visit to India would take place on the set date in late December
and "no other dates have been officially announced".
A judo black belt, Putin has in recent years been filmed
riding bare-chested on a horse, diving in the Black Sea, skiing
in the Caucasus and fighting wildfires from an airplane.
His apparent fitness helped bring him early popularity
because of the stark contrast with predecessor, Boris Yeltsin,
who was sometimes drunk in public and had heart surgery when
president in 1996.
Putin's formal role as head of state and his position at the
pinnacle of power in Russia, where his blessing is seen as
indispensable for everything from legislation to oil deals,
makes any illness or medical treatment highly sensitive.
At a meeting with foreign analysts and journalists at his
residence outside Moscow on Thursday, he did not appear to be in
pain but, as in other recent public appearances, leant forward
in his seat, putting weight on his right forearm.
At the Asia-Pacific summit in Vladivostok in September, he
was also caught by TV cameras complaining to Foreign Minister
Sergei Lavrov that he was on restricted diet.
The summit followed an episode in which Putin flew in a
delta-winged light aircraft with a flock of cranes that had been
bred in captivity, in an attempt to train them to migrate.
At the time, Peskov said that Putin had pulled a leg muscle
but that he had not sustained the injury in the crane flight.
In power as Russia's president or prime minister since 1999,
Putin could remain in the Kremlin until May of 2024, when he
would be 71 years old, if he seeks and wins re-election in 2018.
His election to a new term in March after four years as
prime minister followed the biggest opposition protests of his
rule, prompted by suspicions of fraud in a December 2011
parliamentary election won by his ruling United Party.