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Putin divorce takes Russia by surprise – Break-up may clear way for new marriage

putinMOSCOW: Russians reeled yesterday from the shock announcement by President Vladimir Putin that his 30-year marriage was over, a break-up that was long an open secret but few imagined would ever be made public. In a highly choreographed joint interview with state television after attending a ballet together, Putin’s wife Lyudmila said they were having a “civilised divorce” and revealed that the pair hardly ever saw each other. Lyudmila said she was grateful to Putin for supporting her, while Putin praised the fact she had “stood guard” for the almost nine years he has served as president. “We are always going to be very close to each other. I am sure, forever,” said the Russian strongman. It was an extraordinarily frank statement for any Russian politician, whose private lives are generally out of bounds. But particularly for Putin, who lives in such secrecy that he has never been officially photographed with his two adult daughters. The announcement unleashed speculation about whether Putin is seeing another woman, a subject that has so far been taboo.

Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov yesterday denied any rumours that the president has a relationship with another woman. “It’s not difficult to take a look at Putin’s work schedule. And you will see that his life, perhaps unfortunately, is in no way tied to any family relationships, only to those responsibilities that he has as the head of state,” he told the Echo of Moscow radio station. An imminent second marriage is “rather closer to the category of rumours and gossip,” he added. Observers however said that the public announcement ultimately serves little practical purpose, and that creating an image of a man completely devoted to his country - along the lines of Joseph Stalin - would never work in today’s Russia. “In the modern world it is impossible to recreate a Stalin-esque image... of a man who thinks only about the motherland,” said independent analyst Dmitry Oreshkin. “If there is a new marriage, then it will be clear why the (divorce announcement) was done.” “The news is that Putin’s private life became a subject of public discussion for the first time,” said political analyst Maria Lipman of Carnegie Centre in Moscow. “Something has to follow,” she said. “Putin wanted people to know, and the question is why he needs the divorce.

To start a new marriage? It’s possible that we will find out about another woman.” The Moskovsky Korrespondent newspaper, owned by tycoon Alexander Lebedev, reported in 2008 that Putin was about to marry Olympic gymnast turned legislator Alina Kabayeva, 31 years his junior. The paper then denied its own story and was closed by its owner. Peskov said Putin’s packed schedule means “his life is not linked in any way to any family relations.” The reason for the timing of the announcement is unclear. The carefully choreographed revelation may be aimed at improving Putin’s image as a man wedded to his job at a time of challenges from opposition protests and increased Internet scrutiny of his life. In May in a public phone-in, Putin said his work was his “whole life. I don’t know if that is enough for happiness.” Lyudmila, 55, a former flight attendant, revealed in their interview that she disliked flying and was averse to publicity, factors that had made the marriage impossible. Kommersant business daily headlined its story “Civilised divorce”, saying that the couple suffered from “incompatibility of life rhythms”. His spokesman said the couple had not yet filed for divorce, asking for respect for their privacy. Yesterday the story dominated the Internet, with many praising Putin for speaking frankly. “This is all honest, without falseness,” wrote Kremlin loyalist daily Komsomolskaya Pravda on its website. — AFP

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This article was published on 07/06/2013