Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, Vladimir Putin's only close Ukraine war ally, has been seen in public for the first time following rumours he had been poisoned.
However, the tyrant's extremely croaky voice has only served to spark further speculation about his ill-health.
There were claims Lukashenko had been "poisoned" after Russia's Victory Day parade in Moscow on May 9.
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Suggestions that his health was failing first came about after he was pictured watching on with a bandage around his hand.
Belarusian political analyst Dmitry Bolkunets reported on Telegram that Lukashenko did not join Putin and the other leaders for a scheduled lunch.
Instead Bolkunets said he left Moscow "due to health reasons". He was reportedly accompanied back to the airport by an ambulance.
Kyiv Post journalist Jason Jay Smart said on Twitter that Bolkunets told him "it is possible that Lukashenko was poisoned".
On Monday (May 15) Belarusian state media released video and photos of Lukashenko at an air force installation.
Yet video from the press event showed him with a bandage on his left hand – the opposite one to where it appeared last week – and speaking in an incredibly laboured voice.
Max Seddon, the Financial Times Moscow bureau chief who heads their Russia coverage, shared the video. His caption read: "In an attempt to show he is totally not dead, Belarus' Alexander Lukashenko makes his first public appearance in nearly a week.
"He is talking about Russian planes and helicopters shot down last weekend, seemingly confirming this is not stock video to be released in his absence."
Several people mocked the dictator's appearance. Nexta, a Belarusian outlet based in Poland, tweeted images from the event and wrote: "Lukashenka will become a new exhibit of the Museum of Wax Figures.
"Your face when you haven't died yet but you've already been made into a embalmed doll like Lenin."
Pavel Latushka, a former Belarusian government official who is now an opposition activist, cited government sources over the weekend as saying Lukashenko had a viral infection with a complication of myocarditis (inflammation of the heart muscle).
There were also rumours he was recently taken to an elite clinic in Minsk.
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