Vladimir Putin announces he is to divorce his wife

Vladimir Putin and his rarely-seen wife Lyudmila are to divorce. Picture: AP
Vladimir Putin and his rarely-seen wife Lyudmila are to divorce. Picture: AP
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RUSSIAN media have reacted with unusual compassion to Thursday’s announcement of President Vladimir Putin’s divorce.

Putin and his wife, Lyudmila, rarely seen in public, announced the end of their marriage less than two months shy of their 30th anniversary in an interview with Russian television. His spokesman Dmitry Peskov could not say when they would formally divorce, adding that this did not matter.

Divorce is common in Russia, and nearly 700,000 couples dissolved their marriages in 2009, according to UNICEF. But Russian leaders, unlike their American counterparts, generally keep their domestic lives well out of public view and divorce among top officials in Russia is unprecedented.

Lyudmila Putina, 55, was rarely seen in public during her husband’s long tenure at the top of Russian politics, fueling rumors that she and Putin had separated.

While break-ups involving prominent politicians are exceptionally rare, some sections of the media often sneer at celebrity splits.

Russian media, however, were unusually compassionate to the Putins’ decision.

Opposition-leaning Kommersant Radio lauded the couple’s announcement for keeping the public informed instead of keeping it secret.

“Perhaps a lot of people feel better now that the president did what he did instead of living a double life for the sake of following some false protocol,” prominent columnist Viktor Loshak said on Kommersant FM Friday morning. “The president and his wife acted like real people.”

One of Russia’s best-selling tabloids, Moskovsky Komsomolets, credited the president with breaking a long-held taboo for talking about their private lives, let alone problems and affairs.

“There was hardly any politics-savvy Russian in the country who could not have guessed that the first couple wasn’t particularly intimate. Lyudmila Putina’s long-time absence at political events was telling,” Mikhail Rostovsky said. “Putin has broken a taboo by showing that he is a man like everyone else. Even the president is entitled have a private life - and entitled to have failures in it, too.”

The Putins married on July 28, 1983, and have two daughters, Maria and Yekaterina, who haven’t been seen in public for years.

There have been hints that Lyudmila Putina was unhappy. In a 2005 interview with three Russian newspapers, she complained that her husband worked long hours, forgetting that “one needs not only to work, but also to live.”