Vladimir Putin says no plans to remarry after separating from wife

Putin's staff refuse to give details on formal divorce date from Lyudmila, amid rumours of dalliances with younger women

Vladimir Putin, who has announced his separation from his wife of almost 30 years, has no plans to remarry and will continue to dedicate his life to his duties as Russian president, his spokesman said on Friday.

Putin and his wife, Lyudmila, announced that they would seek a "civilised divorce" on Thursday after watching the first act of a ballet in the Kremlin theatre.

In a seemingly staged TV interview, they cited the fact that they barely saw each other and that Lyudmila shied away from publicity. The couple have rarely been seen together in recent years.

Putin has long been rumoured to have had a series of dalliances with much younger women, and there has been speculation that he fathered a child with a former Olympic gymnast.

His spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said rumours that Putin may retie the knot in the near future were "idle gossip".

"Even to the untrained eye, if you take a look at Putin's schedule, you'll understand that his life is in no way linked with family matters," Peskov told Ekho Moskvy radio.

Peskov has warned journalists not to delve into Putin's personal life and said he had no idea when his 60-year-old boss would formally divorce Lyudmila, a former Aeroflot cabin crew member, who is five years his junior. The Putins have two children, both in their 20s.

Rumours that the Putins' marriage was on the rocks surfaced long ago, and there was speculation that Lyudmila had been hidden away in a convent in the western Pskov region.

In 2008, Putin scoffed at claims by a Moscow-based tabloid that he would marry former Olympic gymnast Alina Kabayeva, known for her "incredible flexibility". Kabayeva, 30, has also dismissed speculation that she has had a child by Putin.

When Putin appeared at an Easter service last month alongside his protege Dmitry Medvedev, the prime minister, Medvedev's wife and Moscow mayor Sergei Sobyanin, commentators quipped that Sobyanin, a Putin loyalist, had displaced Lyudmila as first lady.

State-controlled media responded tepidly to news of the presidential breakup, with many publications running only brief reports, but the announcement spawned a flurry of activity on social networks and made headlines in the international press.

While the Putins' separation made the front page of the leading Russian business daily Kommersant, local news outlets including Channel One and Life News – a well-connected tabloid website that boldly lays claim to being "first for urgent news" – were slow to run stories on the couple's parting of the ways late on Thursday evening.

Russian leaders, with the exception of Mikhail Gorbachev, have tended to shield their spouses from public view, and Putin is said to be Russia's first ruler since Peter the Great to have separated from his partner while running the country.

Such a break with tradition is unlikely to go down well with Russia's Orthodox Christian faithful, an important support base for Putin, who returned to the presidency for a third term last May. Patriarch Kirill, Russia's top religious official, has said that divorce is "not what God intended". Kirill, whose church enjoys close ties with the Russian state, has not yet commented on the Putins' separation.

In contrast to the muted response by local media, Russian bloggers were full of jokes on the presidential break-up, and the hashtag #divorce was catapulted into Russia's top trends on Twitter.

"If only Putin would have a 'civilised divorce' with the country.

"At the moment it's all smashing of crockery, scandals and assault," wrote Ilya Yashin, a leader of protests against Putin's 13-year rule.

The independent online TV channel Dozhd, on the other hand, found it symbolic that the Putins had chosen to watch La Esmeralda, a story of unrequited love based on Victor Hugo's The Hunchback of Notre-Dame, before announcing their separation.

But Putin's spokesman dismissed the link. "The ballet isn't depressing, it's uplifting," Peskov said.


Alexander Winning in Moscow

The GuardianTramp

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