By CLIFFORD J. LEVY, New York Times
But on Thursday, after showing up at a news conference with what looked like a black eye, Mr. Putin, 58, was engulfed in speculation that he may have met his athletic match, or had a face-lift, or undergone dental surgery, or was just, as his spokesman said, suffering jet lag.
The questions started on Wednesday in Kiev, the Ukrainian capital, where Mr. Putin seemed to have heavy makeup around his eyes in an appearance with that country’s leaders, according to reporters who were there. One Ukrainian publication speculated that he had had plastic surgery, a possibility that was perhaps far-fetched because earlier this week his face had no noticeable blemishes.
Even one of Russia’s most respected independent newspapers, Kommersant, could not help dwelling on the change, especially around Mr. Putin’s left eye. “Ukrainian, Russian and Western reporters after the press conference could talk about only one thing: Where did that black eye come from — could it have been the result of some tough sparring?” wrote Andrei Kolesnikov, a veteran Putin-watcher. “While it was carefully covered up, it was still visible to all.”
Journalists in Kiev also noted Mr. Putin’s sour mood, saying the news conference was cut short and a dinner was canceled.
On Thursday, Mr. Putin’s spokesman, Dmitri S. Peskov, brushed aside the talk about injuries. “He was just really tired after several flights and extra meetings,” The Associated Press quoted him as saying. “Also, the light may have fallen on him in an unfortunate manner.”
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