MOSCOW (AP) — Russian President Vladimir Putin and his wife Lyudmila said Thursday they are divorcing after nearly 30 years of marriage, making the announcement on state television after attending a ballet performance at the Kremlin.
“It was our joint decision,” Putin said.
Lyudmila Putin, a former Aeroflot flight attendant, was rarely seen in public during her husband’s long tenure at the top of Russian politics and implied that she didn’t like to travel with him on his frequent trips.
“I don’t like publicity and flying is difficult for me,” she said.
The Putins married on July 28, 1983, and have two daughters, Maria and Yekaterina. In the televised announcement, Putin appeared reserved and Lyudmila smiled tentatively.
“We practically never saw each other. To each his own life,” Putin said.
Lyudmila Putin said, “We will eternally be very close people. I’m thankful … that he supports me.”
Rumors have followed the pair for years. In 2008, Putin dismissed a tabloid claim that he intended to marry a former Olympic gymnast less than half his age, saying “I like all Russian women.”
There were no immediate indications of how the move would be perceived by the public. Divorce is common in Russia, and nearly 700,000 pairs dissolved their marriages in 2009, according to UNICEF.
Russian leaders, unlike their counterparts in the West, generally keep their personal lives well out of public view. Mikhail Gorbachev’s wife Raisa raised many Russians’ hackles by her visibility, flair for fashionable dress and forthright comments.
But Putin also has made a point of supporting traditional social values and appearing at holiday masses of the Orthodox Church. The church permits divorce under some circumstances; it is not clear if the Putins sought pastoral advice or permission before the split.
There have been hints that Lyudmila Putin 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.”
She said she raised the couple’s two daughters with a mixture of devotion and distance. While her daughters sometimes shared secrets with her, she said she didn’t hold with the idea that parents and children should be friends.