Russians Friday reeled from the shock announcement by President Vladimir Putin that his 30-year marriage was over,a break-up that was long an open secret but few imagined would ever be made public.
In a highly choreographed joint interview with state TV after attending a ballet together,Putins wife Lyudmila said they were having a civilised divorce and revealed the pair hardly ever saw each other.
Lyudmila said she was grateful to Putin for supporting her,while Putin praised the fact she had stood guard for the almost nine years he has served as president.
We are always going to be very close to each other. I am sure,forever, said the Russian strongman.
It was an extraordinarily frank statement for any Russian politician,whose private lives are generally out of bounds. Particularly for Putin,who lives in such secrecy that he has never been officially photographed with his two adult daughters.
The announcement unleashed speculation about whether Putin is seeing another woman,a subject that has so far been taboo.
Putins spokesman Dmitry Peskov denied the 60-year-old was planning to remarry,telling the Echo of Moscow radio station: I can say for sure that this is more about rumours and tittle-tattle.
The Moskovsky Korrespondent newspaper,owned by tycoon Alexander Lebedev,reported in 2008 that Putin was about to marry Olympic gymnast turned legislator Alina Kabayeva,31 years his junior. The paper then denied its own story and was closed by its owner.