The Kremlin was forced to deny that Vladimir Putin has health problems because he coughed repeatedly during an online television conference about Covid-19.
His coughing fit was later modified to appear less acute in a version posted by his office.
The Russian president, 68, warned of “acute financial hardship” in regions due to Covid-19 when he suddenly struggled to keep speaking.
He spoke to his Finance Minister Anton Siluanov and other senior officials when the coughing fit started.
Putin said “excuse me” and repeatedly raised his right hand to his mouth as he struggled to move on.
The version of the president’s comments later posted on the Kremlin’s website made the worst of his cough.
The scare came on Wednesday, Nov. 18, when Russia announced a record 456 daily coronavirus deaths.
State news agency TASS asked the Kremlin about Putin’s health and was told he was “absolutely normal”.
“The president apologized and continued the meeting with virtually no pause,” it reported.
Radio Mayak, which aired an original stream, reported, “Putin’s vocal cords gave in when he set up his government to fight Covid-19.”
Unlike other world leaders and many Russian officials, Putin is believed to have avoided Covid-19 so far.
Despite Russia having two vaccines available – one tested by his daughter Katerina, 34 – he was not injected, it is understood.
He has remained largely isolated in recent months after a shock in April when he came into contact with infected doctors in a clinic in Moscow.
Putin told the hour and a half meeting that the coronavirus situation remains “critical” in many regions and called on his finance minister to provide assistance.
Earlier, he said, “The number of new cases is on the rise … and most alarmingly – the death rate is on the rise.”
There are fears that Russia has downplayed the actual toll and that actual infection and death rates are significantly higher.