The mysterious reappearing Vladimir Putin

LONDON -- A meeting with another world leader would normally be an unremarkable event on Russian President Vladimir Putin's calendar, but Monday, everybody was watching.

The world has been asking: Where is Putin? As CBS News correspondent Mark Phillips reported Monday, it turns out he's in St. Petersburg.

For someone who was rumored to have been either attending the birth of his lovechild, or ousted in a coup, or sick with the flu, or abducted by aliens, the Russian strongman looked more or less his usual self on Monday.

The meeting with the leader of Kyrgyzstan was Putin's first public outing since a March 5 press conference with the Italian prime minister.

For 10 days the 62-year-old had been out of the public eye, fueling speculation something was amiss.

Nina Kruscheva, Associate Professor of International Affairs at The New School, told CBS News it "fits very much into his character to go away and make us all wonder what happened."

"He likes attention, he thrives on attention," said Kruscheva.

And there was no shortage of attention on Twitter, where the hashtag "#WhereisPutin" became a trend last week.

Theories ranged from the outrageous, such as the Ukrainian school children suggesting alien abduction, to the salacious, with one newspaper claiming Putin had sneaked off to Switzerland to watch the birth of his lovechild.

His spokesman denied everything, lampooning illness rumors by insisting his boss still had a handshake that could "break your hand."

"His health is really perfect and everything is okay with him, and he's working in accordance with his traditionally overloaded working schedule," spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.

Still, the vanishing act was somewhat unusual for Putin who, despite being secretive, rarely misses a photo-op to carefully cultivate his macho, robust image.

"He cannot appear human," said Kruscheva. "That's what Putin is, he's sort of a James Bond of contemporary Russia. Have you ever seen James Bond sick? You saw him beaten up, but he always gets up."

As he reappeared Monday, Putin couldn't resist a laugh at the speculators' expense.

"What would life be without gossip?" he asked the gathered journalists.