Vladimir Putin and his wife Lyudmila Putina have announced that they have separated and their marriage is over.
The 60-year-old Russian president and his 55-year-old wife broke the news of the end of the 29-year marriage in an obviously staged TV interview after a night at the ballet that made no mention of Vladimir Putin’s alleged mistress, former Olympic gymnast Alina Kabaeva, 30.
Asked on Rossiya-24 television about longstanding rumors that the Putins no longer lived together, Vladimir Putin said: “That is true.”
Lyudmila Putina said it had been “our common decision. And our marriage is over due to the fact that we barely see each other”.
Asked whether they were divorced, Lyudmila Putina said it was a “civilized divorce”.
But neither clarified whether they were legally divorced and Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said he did not know.
The obviously staged interview made no mention of Alina Kabayeva, a 30-year-old former gymnast who is rumored to have been Vladimir Putin’s mistress for years.
Alina Kabaeva, who is alleged to have given birth to Vladimir Putin’s lovechild, is now a politician after retiring from a glittering career in gymnastics in which she represented her country at the Olympics twice.
Rumors about Vladimir Putin’s alleged affair with Alina Kabaeva first surfaced five years ago when a Russian newspaper owned by the oligarch Alexander Lebedev reported that Putin wanted to marry his gymnast mistress.
Vladimir Putin angrily denied the story, and the newspaper was closed down shortly afterwards, which many attributed to Putin’s rage. Further stories later emerged claiming that Alina Kabaeva had had a baby by the president, but both sides denied them.
Vladimir Putin and Lyudmila Putina had last been seen in public together at Putin’s inauguration to his third presidential term on May 7, 2012.
Married just a few weeks short of 30 years, the Putins announced the decision on state television after attending a ballet performance Thursday evening in the Kremlin.
Lyudmila Putina has rarely been seen in public during her husband’s long tenure at the top of Russian politics.
“I don’t like publicity and flying is difficult for me,” she said.
In the televised announcement of their divorce, Vladimir Putin appeared reserved and Lyudmila Putina smiled tentatively.
“We practically never saw each other. To each his own life,” Vladimir Putin said.
Lyudmila Putina said: “We will eternally be very close people. I’m thankful … that he supports me.”
There were no immediate indications of how the move would be perceived by the public. Divorce is common in Russia, and nearly 700,000 pairs dissolved their marriages in 2009, according to UNICEF.
Russian leaders, unlike their counterparts in the West, generally keep their personal lives well out of public view. Mikhail Gorbachev’s wife Raisa raised many Russians’ hackles by her visibility, flair for fashionable dress and forthright comments.
But Vladimir Putin also has made a point of supporting traditional social values and appearing at holiday masses of the Orthodox Church.
The church permits divorce under some circumstances; it is not clear if the Putins sought pastoral advice or permission before the split.
The couple, who married in 1983 and have two daughters, recently attracted attention after they were never seen in public together.
An official family portrait has been issued, and photographs of their daughters Maria, 27, and Yekaterina, 26, have never been printed by the Russian media.
In April speculation was mounting as to why the first lady of Russia was rarely seen by the president’s side.
Unfounded rumors suggested Vladimir Putin had an affair with spy-turned-lingerie model Anna Chapman, which has been strongly denied, was behind the former Aeroflot-hostess’ disappearance from public view.
In October 2010 the Putins tried to quell rumors they had divorced by posing for pictures as they jointly answered questions for the national census.
Vladimir Putin has been a constant fixture in leading the country.
He was re-elected to the role of President in May last year, and he previously held the post from 2000 to 2008.
In between his these offices, Vladimir Putin was Prime Minister of Russia from 1999 to 2000 and again from 2008 to 2012.
The Russian office of first lady demands the attendance of many official ceremonies and functions of state – either by the side of the president or to represent him.
Russia heavily frowns upon the First Lady holding outside employment while occupying the office.