Russians were in shock Friday after President Vladimir Putin
announced, on a 24-hour cable news network, that he will be
divorcing his wife Lyudmila, just one month short of what would have
been their 30th wedding anniversary.
Many Russians are speculating on Mr. Putin's reasons for taking
what is, for Russian leaders, the highly unusual step of divorcing
his wife. The last Russian leader to publicly ditch his official
spouse was Putin's own personal hero, Peter the Great, and that
occurred over 300 years ago.
Some experts say Putin may have just wanted to end what may have
become for himself and Lyudmilla a tiresome fiction. Others say his
motives might be the same as any number of kings and czars of the
past, who get rid of one wife in order to acquire a new one.
"It's possible that he'll remarry. Why not?" says Alexei Mukhin,
director of the independent Center for Political Information in
"If that is indeed his reason, he'll probably want to move
quickly. When the next presidential election cycle comes around in
less than five years, he'll want to have that relationship firmly
established," he says.
It's been obvious for some time that Putin and his wife were
leading separate lives, but little else has been known since the
Kremlin clamps a very tight lid on any news about Russia's first
family. Like many Soviet wives in the past, Lyudmila Putina had been
something of a gray blur, appearing at a few public events with her
husband - the last time was at his inauguration just over a year ago
- but otherwise keeping out of the limelight.
In what was clearly a pre-arranged and carefully-choreographed
public message, Mr. and Mrs. Putin stepped out of their private loge
at the Grand Kremlin Palace theater Thursday night, where a
journalist for the state-owned Russia-24 network suddenly appeared
and, after a bit of small talk, asked the president an unthinkable
question: "You appear in public together so rarely, and there are
rumors that you don't live together. Are they true?"
That was the cue for Putin to explain that the marriage was over.
"All my activity, all my work is connected to being in the public
eye. Some people like this, some don't, but there are people who are
completely incompatible with this," he said, adding that Lyudmila
had been "standing watch" in the capacity of first lady for nine
"This really was our mutual decision," Mrs. Putina said. "I
really do dislike life in the public eye and air travel is very
difficult for me. And we hardly see each other."
At the end of the interview Putin added a remark that was clearly
aimed at quelling the endless rumors about the whereabouts of the
Putins' two fully grown daughters, Maria and Yekaterina, who have
not been seen in public for years.
"Lyudmila Alexandrovna mentioned our children," Putin said, using
his wife's name and patronymic in the formal Russian style.
"We love them very much. …