Amid swirling rumors about the health of President Aleksandr G. Lukashenko of Belarus, state news media released photos of him on Monday in an apparent attempt to quell speculation that he was seriously ill.
Mr Lukashenko, a key Kremlin ally who is normally subject to daily photo and video scrutiny by state-controlled news outlets, had not been seen since last Tuesday when he attended events in Moscow and the Belarusian capital Minsk, in honor of the Soviet Union. victory over Nazi Germany in 1945.
He skipped an annual ceremony on Sunday in Minsk for Belarusian flag day, an event at which he usually speaks, and had his prime minister read a statement.
Europe’s longest-serving leader and an avid sportsman, Mr Lukashenko, 68, has ruled Belarus, a former Soviet republic dependent on Moscow for financial and security aid, since 1994 with a tight grip. In the past, he has enjoyed showing off his robust good health in public by skating, playing ice hockey, and giving long speeches outdoors, regardless of the weather.
But the official Belarusian news agency Belta and state television had been reusing old photos and film clips of him over the past week.
Ukrainian officials and media created a swirl of gleeful rumors about the health of Mr Lukashenko, widely reviled in Ukraine for allowing Russia to use Belarus, which borders both countries, as a training ground for its large-scale invasion in February 2022.
An opposition news channel, Euroradio, reported that Mr. Lukashenko was taken by motorcade to a clinic in Minsk on Saturday, but the country has not officially commented on his health.
In what could be the most compelling sign that he was ill, though perhaps not seriously, Russia’s tightly controlled news media – which rarely comment on leaders’ health – have reported in recent days that Mr Lukashenko is unwell, citing to Konstantin Zatulin, a senior Russian legislator who works closely with Belarus and other former Soviet republics.
Mr Zatulin said of Mr Lukashenko that “he just got sick, but it’s not Covid.” He gave no details and downplayed the seriousness of Mr. Lukashenko’s condition.
Belta said Monday that Mr. Lukashenko visited an air force command post and said he published photos of the leader that day. It could not be independently confirmed whether the photos were taken on Monday.
Due to the intense secrecy of closed countries such as Belarus and Russia, wild rumors about their leaders are taking flight. For example, there are frequent rumors that President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia has multiple deadly diseases.
The secrecy also makes it difficult to explain the deaths of apparently sane officials, such as Vladimir Makei, the veteran Belarusian foreign minister whose sudden death in November sparked fevered speculation about possible foul play.
Natalya Novosolova and Riley Mellen contributed reporting.