President Vladimir Putin and his wife Lyudmila said they were ending their 30-year-long marriage in what will be the first divorce of a Russian ruler in more than 300 years.
The couple made the carefully choreographed announcement after attending a performance of the ballet La Esmeralda at the Kremlin theatre on Thursday night.
“It was our joint decision,” Mr. Putin said.
“All my activities, all my work, is linked with publicity. Absolute publicity. Some people like it, some people don’t. But there are people who absolutely can’t stand it,” Mr. Putin explained.
Ms. Lyudmila echoed her husband: “It was indeed our common decision. Our marriage is over because we practically never see each other… I dislike publicity and flying is difficult for me,” she said.
It was widely speculated in Russia that Mr. Putin and his wife had split years ago, as Ms. Lyudmila stopped accompanying her husband on official visits and vanished from public view. The couple have two grown up daughters, who “live their own lives”, Ms. Lyudmila said.
Mr. Putin is the first Russian leader to divorce his wife after Peter the Great, who locked his wife, Yevdokia Lopukhina, in a monastery in 1698.
None of the later Russian monarchs broke the Orthodox dictum that marriage is sacred. Even Soviet leaders never divorced their wives, even though some had extramarital relationships.
Mr. Putin is rumoured to have had a number of romantic affairs, including with Olympic gymnast Alina Kabaeva, even having two children with her. Ms. Kabaeva has denied all rumours. In an interview to a Moscow daily on Friday she said she had a boyfriend, was in love and wanted to have children.
The main intrigue for Russians now is whether Mr. Putin will remarry.
Mr. Putin’s press secretary poured cold water on these suggestions:
“Even a casual glance at Putin’s work schedule will reveal that there is no place for marital relations,” he said. “All his life is associated with responsibilities he shoulders as the leader of state.”
This remark was seen as an indication of Mr. Putin’s plans to stay the helm of power for many more years.
“This is a hint at our leader’s sacred marriage to Russia and virtual monkhood,” one blogger commented. “Putin seems to be gearing for a long haul in the Kremlin.”