MOSCOW: Russian President Vladimir Putin and his wife Lyudmila on Thursday announced they have divorced after three decades of marriage, in a stunning revelation that ended years of speculation.
The pair, who have two daughters in their late 20s, made the announcement side-by-side-in a joint interview with state television after watching a ballet performance inside the Kremlin.
“It was a joint decision,” Putin said during the interview with Rossia-24 television. “We are always going to be very close to each other. I am sure, forever.”
“Our marriage is over, really because of the fact that we practically never see each other,” added Lyudmila, who has been almost invisible in public in recent years.
“It really was our joint decision. Vladimir Vladimirovich is completely drowned in work, our children have grown up and they are living their own lives,” said Lyudmila.
“I really do not like publicity. Flights are difficult for me and we practically do not see each other,” she added.
Putin echoed that, unlike him, Lyudmila deeply disliked publicity and praised her for her devotion in “standing guard” for so many years.
“We have very good relations,” said Lyudmila. “I am very grateful to Vladimir Vladimirovich that he still supports me. And the children, he really cares for them. And the children feel this.”
“You can say it is a civilised divorce,” she added.
The pair made the revelation after together watching the classical ballet “Esmeralda” performed by the State Kremlin Ballet company at the State Kremlin Palace.
His spokesman Dmitry Peskov, contacted by AFP, also confirmed the divorce. In the interview, neither Putin, 60, nor Lyudmila, believed to be 55, gave any clues over their current private situations.
Constant rumours have swirled around Putin’s private life but until now there has been a total taboo over discussing it in mainstream Russian media.
A Moscow newspaper reported in 2008 that he was about to marry Olympic gymnast turned legislator Alina Kabayeva, 31 years his junior. The report was denied and the publication closed down shortly afterwards.
The divorce announcement, while ending the speculation about their marriage, appears set to unleash a new frenetic guessing game about who the Russian strongman could be seeing now.
“Now the most interesting thing begins: will Putin marry the second time? And who?” the liberal Slon.ru website commented.
Putin and Lyudmila have been seen together extremely rarely in the last years and their last public appearance appears to date back to May 2012 after Putin was inaugurated for a third term in office.
In 2010 Putin and his wife appeared on television giving their personal details for a national census and the fact that Lyudmila was not wearing a wedding ring attracted speculation, although both declared themselves “married.”
Over the past years Putin usually appeared at official functions including foreign visits alone, even if the presence of the first lady was expected according to conventional protocol.
The future Russian president, then working as a KGB agent, married Lyudmila Shkrebneva in July 1983, before he started his posting as a spy in the East German city of Dresden in 1985.
They first met in Putin’s home city of Leningrad (now Saint Petersburg) when Lyudmila, then working as a flight stewardess, came for a short visit with a girlfriend. A friend then introduced them.
According to his biography on his official website, Putin proposed to Lyudmila three years after their first encounter. “I knew that if I did not get married in two or three years, then I never would,” Putin is quoted as saying on the website.