President Vladimir Putin of Russia and his wife Lyudmila have ended years of speculation over their relationship, admitting publicly they had decided to end their marriage.
Speaking in a stilted but clearly staged interview on state television after a night together at the ballet, the couple said they had agreed to a "civilised break up" because they barely saw each other.
It appeared that a formal divorce had not yet taken place.
The announcement is likely to intensify rumours that Mr Putin (60) has had an affair with the former gymnast and politician Alina Kabayeva (30) although no hard evidence has ever been presented to confirm that.
Mrs Putin has appeared only very rarely in recent years with some reports suggesting she had even joined a convent in the western city of Pskov.
The Russian leader and his wife spoke after seeing a performance of Esmerelda at the State Kremlin palace, their first public engagement together since Mr Putin returned to the presidency in May last year.
The nervous-looking couple answered several questions about the ballet – with Mr Putin saying with uncharacteristic verve that it was "superb, superb" – before the correspondent from Rossiya 24 asked about persistent rumours that he and his wife no longer lived together.
"Yes, that's true," said Mr Putin, wearing a blue suit and a red tie, after glancing at Mrs Putin, who nodded. "Everything I do is connected with the public sphere. Some people like that, some people don't.
"There are some people who are completely incompatible with that." Using Mrs Putin's formal name, he added: "Lyudmila Alexandrovna maintained an eight year watch, nine years even. In short, it's a joint decision." The couple married almost 30 years ago on July 28, 1983, when Mr Putin was a young officer in the KGB and his future wife was an air hostess.
The couple have two daughters, Katya (27) and Masha (28) who, like their mother, have kept out of the spotlight. The secret life of the women in Mr Putin's life has often been contrasted sharply by his Russian critics with the high profile public persona of President Barack Obama of the United States and his wife and two daughters.
Mrs Putin, confirmed she and Mr Putin had decided together to go their separate ways. "Vladimir Vladimirovich is completely immersed in his work, our children have grown up; it has turned out that each person is living their separate life." (© Daily Telegraph, London)