From Russia, Without Love: Vladimir Putin Divorces Wife Lyudmila

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On Thursday evening, the Russian public got the news of President Vladimir Putin’s divorce the same way they have gotten every fact about his private life — spoon-fed to them in tiny, measured and rather tasteless doses. The First Couple of the Kremlin made the announcement on national television while dressed in formal wear, with the stiffness of wax statuettes and the careful orchestration of the ballet they had just finished watching. It was meant to be a rare bit of candor from a man whose government has guarded his family affairs as closely as the codes in his nuclear suitcase. But it mostly served to reaffirm the rule Russians have long gotten used to: everything about Putin’s life is a secret unless he dictates otherwise.

The scripted statement, which Putin made alongside his former wife Lyudmila, was broadcast on the Kremlin’s mouthpiece television channel, Rossiya 24. It was made to a lone reporter who acted as though she just happened to catch them walking out of a performance of the ballet Esmeralda at the Kremlin’s private theater. The reporter rattled off a few questions about what they had thought of the music, the dancing and the choreography, and Putin answered as if himself eager for her to get to the point. Finally, she did. “You show up in public so rarely, and there are rumors that you don’t live together. Is that true or not?” The couple exchanged a knowing glance before Putin stated. “Well, it is so.”

(MORE: Putin Looking for Love Online—in Spoof Ad)

The reason, he said, was the overwhelming limelight that comes with public office and which “some people” simply cannot bear. He made it clear that it was his wife who could not bear all the publicity, although Putin has always been the one to snap like a bulldog when journalists pry into his love life. The first and clearest lesson on that score came in April 2008, when a Russian newspaper ran a story claiming Putin had left his wife to marry a 24-year-old Olympic gymnast named Alina Kabaeva, a member of the parliament for Putin’s political party.

The newspaper, Moskovsky Korrespondent, cited a source close to the wedding planner, who claimed that Putin had officially divorced his wife two months before. Asked to respond to the claims at a press conference, Putin went on one of his most often cited tirades. “I am, of course, aware of the hackneyed phrase and stamp that politicians live in a glass house,” he said. “But even in these cases, there must be some limits … I always thought badly of those who go around with their erotic fantasies sticking their snot-ridden noses into another person’s life.”

(MORE: Vladimir Putin: When Family Is Virtually a State Secret)

Within hours, the publisher of Moskovsky Korrespondent shut the paper down, claiming it had been “loss-making,” and the Russia media learned a none-too-subtle lesson about violating Putin’s privacy. That lesson has been so effective that to this day, the Russian public does not even know what Putin’s adult daughters look like. Forget the chatty TV appearances and photo shoots of Sasha and Malia Obama, the daughters of the U.S. President. The Kremlin has never released a single picture of Putin’s daughters in adulthood. All we know for sure is that they are named Maria and Ekaterina and were born in 1985 and 1986, respectively. It is not even known whether they are married or to whom, and that is no trivial piece of information in Russia considering the corruption scandals that surrounded the son-in-law of Putin’s predecessor, Boris Yeltsin.

But that does not mean the Russian masses have muddled along in total ignorance. Within the vacuum left by Putin’s silence, an entire ecosystem of rumors and unconfirmed reports have taken shape, forming the basis of Putin lore. Central to these fables for years has been the assumption that Putin is a lady’s man, who separated from Lyudmila years ago. All of this was based on circumstantial evidence and speculation. For instance, the last time Putin and his wife appeared alone before a television camera, during a census count in 2010, Lyudmila meekly identified herself as Putin’s wife but was clearly not wearing a wedding ring.

(MORE: Top Russian Diplomat Explains Reasons for Syrian Arms Sales)

And so the rumor mill churned away until Thursday evening, when Putin’s moment of grudging truthfulness arrived. “Lyudmila Alexandrovna mentioned our children,” he said, tellingly using her name and patronymic, the formal manner of address more often used for elders and strangers. “We love them very much. We are very proud of them. They have indeed grown up. Their lives are unfolding. And by the way, they got their education in Russia and live in Russia on a permanent basis.”

This last point was perhaps the funniest to politicos watching at home. Hardly a week goes by without another member of the Russian political elite having to defend the fact that his or her children live or study abroad, an indictment of the motherland that can be costly for a patriot’s career. On that score, Putin’s announcement was meant to budge the mountain of suspicion that his daughters have long shipped out to greener pastures. So then, any more doubts? Any more questions? Whom is Putin seeing now? Any new love interests? Any more children we should know about? Maybe years from now, if Putin feels he’s ready to share, the world might learn a few details. Until then, the old lesson for the Russian public holds: pry at your peril, and know what you’re told.

MORE: TIME Q&A With Vladimir Putin

MORE: The End of Alimony

61 comments
ChristyM.
ChristyM.

What a shi_head Putin is - setting his wife up like that. Look at the pain on her face. Only  a gutless womanizer would do that to the woman who stood by him for 30 years - ever since he was a nobody KGB goon, bore him 2 lovely daughters and looked the other way every time he stuck his 'johnson' into any female that would have him.

As for his temper tantrums over private life - he lies so much, the only thing we know for sure is he DID marry Aina Kabraeva in 2013, had 1 bast_rd son by her, and yet another illegitimate kid last November. Putin is 64 and Alina is 31 years old, so Putin addressing his younger wife Lyudmila as an elder is ludicrous - he's the randy old fart trying  to look like he belongs next to a child bride.

  Divorces aren't unheard of, but Putins outright LIES about the situation and the demeaning way he treats Lyudmila is disgusting. He has no class - his KGB past and somewhat 'rough' upbringing show every time he tries to look presidential.

soojenite
soojenite

the way this story is written, is to make RUSSIA and PUTIN look like monsters, but many politicians do divorce sometimes... SARKOZY have divorced, SEGOLENE ROYAL of FRANCE, have divorced, Mc CAIN have divorsed, BARLUSCONNI have divorced, new Belgian prime minister is divorced, and he turned to be a GAY, REAGAN had divorced, MANDELA had divorced, AL GORE have divorced, CLINTON have cheated,


No wonder why the west is no longer Popular today,  When we got nothing to say why dont we shut up?

ElayneSusanDavis
ElayneSusanDavis

hello Mr. Putin .... not all of us American ladies are crass ... may your ex be respected and let be ... i am newly separated and it is a person matter indeed ... God Bless and take care ... I think you are doing well , i will not have a word about USA howver ... Good evening all .

LosGayringos
LosGayringos

More ignorance from a writer who no doubt is part of the junk culture that scored 26th in academics..USA .Dissing the most powerful man in the world is funny.besides money ,power ,and leading edge science what does Russia have?They tool for Mars while USA plays gay parade.

valentine.godoflove
valentine.godoflove

When I was asked ....who did I want as the Republican candidate for the Presidency against Obama.......without hesitation.....I answered.......

if he was a Republican............VLADIMIR PUTIN......WHY?.......BECAUSE HE HAS THE BALLS AND THE WHEREWITHAL TO WAGE WAR AGAINST OBAMA AND HIS COOKED CRONIES AND DEFEAT THEM ALL.......

L O L......................

Now.....VLAD....WANTS TO HAVE A GOOD TIME......NO SENSE HAVING ALL THOSE RUSSIAN BEAUTIES GO TO WASTE......

GO VLAD GO.........

valentine, the god of love, comedian............lol

notLostInSpace
notLostInSpace

I don't know if Russia makes me happy or sad.  On one hand it is good for the family that no one knows what his daughters look like, they really have nothing to do with policy.  But on the other hand we have the US where we know the crazy Dr in prison wants to send Paris Jackson a letter.  Too much info compared to too little info.  People in US have trouble filtering what is important and what is drivel, people in Russia don't have to worry about filters, they know they only get the state's story.  

trusake
trusake

"from russia, without love" LOL

MirzoshoevM
MirzoshoevM

Putin will restore USSR, he is the wisest man in the world!

cjh2nd
cjh2nd

what about this is news? just because he's the leader of a country doesn't make a divorce news. if getting a divorce was newsworthy, that's all we'd report on, since it happens all the time. this is garbage journalism, not sure why TIME deemed it worth of posting

psyopbuster
psyopbuster

What an ugly diatribe. Time, can you get any lower? No wonder everybody is watching and reading RT.

SmoothEdward1
SmoothEdward1

It must be her fault. Putin is obviously a cheerful man with a sunny disposition and easy to get along with.

KingCujo
KingCujo

And Bush looked in his eyes ....

pocoloco1971
pocoloco1971

@TIME @TIMEWorld her daughter lives in the Netherlands so I guess that she have seen the light. Free speech, tolerant and no iron fist!

araisokun
araisokun

@TIME @TIMEWorld Love the original reporting & interpretation that was putin 2 ds story. U 4got 2 add that ds guy was a KGB honcho. Typical

HelenHomchickCookJohnson
HelenHomchickCookJohnson

The emotions of his low betrayal shows very definitely on her face. Nothing to be proud of about that man!!!! He threw his wife and family under the bus for his own selfish pride and lust of many types!!!!!!


AskarMambetaliev
AskarMambetaliev

On one hand, it is a safer way to live with a huge capital that the family owns, on the other, Christianity went on wrong way interpretation on polygamy which was practiced by kings and prophets. New Testament also doesn't prohibit polygamy but only to leaders of churches.