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06/06/2013

It's over: Russian leader Vladimir Putin and wife Lyudmila split

Putin divorce blog
 Russian President Vladimir Putin with Russian gymnast Alina Kabayeva at meeting with the Russian Olympic team in Moscow, Nov. 2004. Putin and his wife said Thursday that they had separated and their marriage was over. Reuters/ITAR-TASS/Presidential Press Service
 

 

PERSONAL

Single white Russian male, 60 -- but check out the topless photos.
Looks: think Daniel Craig.
Likes:  tiger-wrestling, treasure-diving, flying with cranes.
Traits: firm disciplinarian
Money: how much do you want?


News that Russian President Vladimir Putin and wife of 30 years, Lyudmila, are getting an amicable divorce may set hearts aflutter from Moscow to Moose Jaw. After all, the taut-torsoed former KGB officer was voted Russia’s sexiest man a mere five years ago, especially by young party supporters.

But step away from that ad.

For years, persistent rumors have matched him up with 30-year-old “rhythmic gymnast” Alina Kabayeva, whose pneumatic image has burst from many Russian websites alongside salacious speculation.

Thursday’s separation announcement, on a Russian TV channel, was brief but vague, with Lyudmila calling it a “civilized divorce,”  because "we barely see each other," and Putin adding that it was a “mutual decision.”  But it was not clear whether the divorce had already taken place.

Few Kremlin-watchers will be surprised.

For the past five years sightings of the couple have been few and far between, and their obligatory appearances together strained. In a rare at-home interview in 2010, they described themselves self-evidently as “married,” while the president cuddled only with his dog.

Lyudmila putin and vlad
 
Vladimir Putin and his wife Lyudmila Putina at G8 dinner in Peterhof, Russia, 2006.  (Photo by www.g8russia.ru via Getty Images)

The Russian rumour mill had it otherwise. As early as 2008, a report that the couple was already divorced, and Putin planning to wed Kabayeva, led to a brusque denial and the closure of the Moscow newspaper Moskovsky Korrespondent.

But gossip persisted, including unconfirmed rumors that he had fathered two children with Kabayeva, the latest last November. She has said that a three-year-old boy with whom she was linked is her “nephew.” Putin has two grown-up daughters with Lyudmila.

Will the alleged relationship come out from the cold?

Until the mid 1980s Soviet leaders' wives were mostly seen at their funerals, and Mikhail Gorbachev’s public appearances with glamorous wife Raisa raised eyebrows and hackles. Putin has kept to the old ways of secrecy, down to Thursday's tight-lipped announcement.

Whether the ebullient Kabayeva will be as obliging as the discreet Lyudmila Putina is yet to be seen, if indeed the long standing rumours are true.

Kabayeva has posed for magazines semi-nude and wrapped in a fur rug and appeared in “provocative” YouTube videos of her gymnastic routine – proving that she, at least, has nothing to hide.

Olivia Ward covered Russia and the former Soviet Union for the Star from 1992 until 2002.

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