MINSK Russian President Vladimir Putin's back troubles stem from a recent bout of judo, according to the leader of the neighbouring state of Belarus.
"I know he has this problem. He loves judo. He lifted a guy, threw him, and twisted his spine," Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko told Reuters in an interview.
Lukashenko had been hoping to play ice hockey with Putin but the Kremlin leader postponed the match, he said.
"He tells me: 'We are not prepared yet to take on your team.' He has damaged his spine somewhere. In a judo match. He was on the mat and hurt his spine," Lukashenko said.
Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov declined to comment. The former Soviet republic of Belarus has close but sometimes rocky relations with its former colonial master.
Putin, a judo black belt who began a six-year presidential term in May and turned 60 in October, was seen limping at an Asia-Pacific summit in the Russian port of Vladivostok in early September.
A former KGB officer who enjoys vast authority at the head of Russia's so-called 'vertical' power structure, Putin has long cultivated a tough-guy image that wouldn't sit well with prolonged illness.
Three government sources told Reuters in late October that Putin was suffering from back trouble. Several foreign trips which had been expected around that time but were never officially announced by the Kremlin have not taken place, including a trip to India.
The Kremlin dismissed talk that Putin had a serious back problem and that he might require surgery.
Putin has held regular meetings with officials but has not traveled throughout November. The Kremlin acknowledged that he had suffered a sports-related injury but gave no details.
The Russian leader is expected to resume foreign travel in December, Kremlin sources say.
(Reporting by Timothy Heritage; Editing by Greg Mahlich)