Russian President Vladimir Putin and his wife, Lyudmila, said their marriage was ending just short of their 30th anniversary, blaming demands on his time and his high-profile position.
The Putins said the decision was mutual, speaking in an interview on state television channel Rossiya 24, following a rare public appearance together at the ballet “Esmeralda” in the Kremlin. The announcement yesterday ended years of speculation about difficulties in their marriage.
“All my activity, my work is public, absolutely public,” Putin, 60, said. “Someone may like it, someone may not. But there are people who are totally incompatible with this.”
Lyudmila Putina, 55, said the demands on the president’s time led to their estrangement. “We virtually never see each other,” she said, adding that she’s grateful for his support.
The Putins were last shown together in May 2012 at his inauguration and before that while casting their ballots in the March presidential election. Putin, who came to power in 2000, returned to the Kremlin last year for a third term that runs until 2018.
While the divorce hasn’t been formalized, the Putins aren’t living together and their decision to separate has been made, Dmitry Peskov, a Kremlin spokesman, said yesterday by phone. Speaking to reporters in Moscow today, Peskov said Putin didn’t have another woman in his life and dismissed as rumors any suggestion of his plans to remarry.
“It’s a situation we’ve never been in before,” Alexander Oslon, head of the Public Opinion Foundation, said by phone from Moscow. “This won’t have a significantly negative influence on his popularity in Russia, where the majority of the population will consider the announcement as some common, every day kind of thing.”
Divorces per 1,000 people increased 10 percent in Russia in the first quarter from a year earlier, while the number of marriages per 1,000 people rose 17 percent, according to the Federal Statistics Service.
The Putins’ announcement came after they praised the ballet, when the television reporter questioned them about the state of their marriage.
It’s “a civilized divorce,” Putina said. Her husband nodded. He had a ring on his right ring finger, where Russians wear wedding bands.
“Putin’s private life was long surrounded by rumors,” said Yevgeny Minchenko, head of the International Institute of Political Expertise. “Sooner or later, an answer had to be given.”
Putin met his wife, then Lyudmila Shkrebnyova, while she was a flight attendant, before leaving to serve in Germany with the KGB. They married on July 28, 1983, and have two daughters, Maria and Katerina, whom they kept out of the public eye.
The children were educated in Russia and live in the country, Putin said. They live “their own lives,” Lyudmila Putina said. She said flights are now difficult for her.
“I knew that if I didn’t marry in another two or three years, I’d never marry,” Putin wrote of Lyudmila in his official biography. “Of course, the habit of a bachelor’s life had set in. Lyudmila overcame it.”
One in five Russian women say they’d be willing to marry Putin, according to a poll published in October.
Five years ago the owners of Moskovskiy Korrespondent shut the tabloid after it reported that Putin had divorced his wife and was planning to marry Olympic gymnast Alina Kabayeva.
Putin is known for physical stunts such as flying a fighter jet into war-torn Chechnya, riding a horse bare-chested in the Tuva region, shooting a tiger with a tranquilizer gun and piloting a plane dousing water over wildfires in central Russia in 2010.