Russian President Vladimir Putin pulled off one of his most audacious pieces of stagecraft, attending a ballet with his rarely seen wife, Lyudmila, then emerging smiling and announcing their marriage is over.
After a performance of Esmeralda at the Great Kremlin Palace, the two came into a luxurious room to speak to a reporter.
“Excellent. Great music, excellent production,” Putin said and Lyudmila echoed his praise.
Later, the reporter asked about rumors that the two did not live together. Putin smiled slightly, turned his head toward Lyudmila and said: “This is so.”
After a few more comments, the reporter asked: “I am afraid to say this word ‘divorce.’”
“Yes, this is a civilized divorce,” Lyudmila said.
The announcement appeared aimed at underlining that this was not just a powerful man dumping his faithful helpmate. That is a potentially important strategic move for Putin, who has based his public image on rectitude and support of traditional values.
Tabloid reports in 2008 claimed that Putin already had divorced Lyudmila and planned to marry a gymnast less than half his age. The Interfax news agency cited presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov as saying the divorce has not been formalized and that the televised comments were only an announcement of the decision to divorce.
Divorce is common in Russia and Olga Kryshtanovskaya, a sociologist who studies Russia’s political elite, said the move will probably not hurt Putin in the public eye — as long as he does not take a trophy wife.
“If a young wife appears, then the reactions in society may be very different,” she said in an article published by the newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda on its Web site.
Lyudmila Putina, 55, was rarely seen in public during her husband’s long tenure at the top of Russian politics. However, the 60-year-old Putin’s penchant for macho media events ranging from riding with bearded motorcyclists to petting a polar bear have earned him admiration — or derision — and his televised annual news conferences that top four hours are legend.
What he rarely shows in public is any hint of vulnerability and the divorce announcement did not have the air of a man brooding over the fading of love’s bloom.
Rather, Lyudmila portrayed him as a man devoted to his country.
“Vladimir Vladimirovich is absolutely concentrated on his work,” she said.
Putin in turn aimed for a touch of gallantry, remarking on his wife’s forbearance.
“Lydumila Alexandrovna has kept the watch for eight years, even nine,” he said, apparently referring to his first two terms in the Kremlin and his year-old non-consecutive third term.