Russian television showed Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and his wife in a rare appearance together that apparently disproved long-running rumours of the couple's split.

A news item broadcast on all national TV channels on Sunday showed Mr. Putin and his wife Lyudmila taking part in a national population census at one of the Prime Minister's residences, Novo-Ogoryovo, near Moscow. A government census worker asked the Putins standard questions that included, among others, a question about their marital status. Both Mr. Putin and Ms. Lyudmila said they were “married” with two grown-up daughters.

Rumours that the couple were estranged first appeared three years ago, when Ms. Lyudmila stopped accompanying her husband, then President, to official visits abroad. Journalists noted that the couple appeared together in public only on two occasions in 2007, in stark contrast to over 80 appearances in the previous seven years of Mr. Putin's presidency. Sunday's TV footage of Mr. Putin and his wife was probably their first in the past 18 months.

The abrupt disappearance of Ms. Lyudmila from TV screens spurred rumours of Mr. Putin's romance with a famous Russia rhythmic gymnast Alina Kabaeva who is less than half his age. Two years ago, a Russian tabloid alleged that Mr. Putin had divorced Ms. Lyudmila and was planning to marry Ms. Kabaeva. The Kremlin ignored the story but the paper was promptly shut down. A year later another rumour said Ms. Kabaeva gave birth to a son, allegedly fathered by Mr. Putin. The gymnast denied having any children.

According to yet another rumour, Ms. Lyudmila Putin earlier this year became mother superior at a monastery in Pskov Region in north-western Russia. The Pskov Orthodox Church Eparchy issued a denial.

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