Ballet trip Putins announce divorce
Vladimir Putin pulled off one of his most audacious pieces of stagecraft, attending a ballet with his rarely seen wife, then emerging smiling and announcing their marriage was over.
The end of the marriage of the Russian president and Lyudmila Putina, less than two months before their 30th wedding anniversary, came on state television after an evening that started out like a model of domestic contentment - a devoted husband taking his wife out for an arty interlude.
After the performance of Esmeralda at Moscow's Great Kremlin Palace, the two came into a luxurious room to speak to a reporter. "Excellent. Great music, excellent production," Mr Putin said, and Lyudmila echoed his praise.
After about a minute, the reporter asked about rumours that the two did not live together. Mr Putin smiled slightly, like a boy caught misbehaving, and turned his head towards his wife. "This is so," he said.
It was not immediately clear if that meant just separate homes, but after a few more comments, the reporter gently prodded: "I am afraid to say this word 'divorce'."
"Yes, this is a civilised divorce," Mrs Putin said.
The peculiar format for the announcement appeared aimed at underlining that this was not just a powerful man dumping his faithful helpmate. That is a potentially important strategic move for Mr Putin, who has based his public image on rectitude and support of traditional values.
Tabloid reports in 2008 claimed that Mr Putin had already divorced Lyudmila and planned to marry a gymnast less than half his age.
Interfax news agency cited presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov as saying the divorce has not been formalised and that the televised comments were only an announcement of the decision to divorce.
Divorce is common in Russia and nearly 700,000 couples dissolved their marriages in 2009, according to Unicef. Olga Kryshtanovskaya, a sociologist who studies Russia's political elite, said the divorce would probably not hurt Mr Putin in the public eye - as long as he did not take a trophy wife. "If a young wife appears, then the reactions in society may be very different," she said in an article published by the newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda on its website.