Putin tends to image with public split, but will he remarry?

Fri Jun 7, 2013 10:06am EDT
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By Steve Gutterman

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Hours after President Vladimir Putin and his wife, Lyudmila, told Russians their marriage was over, an anchorman on a satirical on-line show gravely announced the latest news: Putin has named Lyudmila "acting First Lady".

It was a joke, of course, but Russians say there's a touch of truth in every joke: While the reasons for the separation may be deeply personal, the staged admission of a long-suspected estrangement was Putin's latest pragmatic political gambit.

The announcement was a piece of damage control, meant to tie up a loose end that has clouded the former KGB spy's image and allow him to tackle the six-year third term he started in May 2012 with a clean slate.

"It became necessary to resolve this situation - there were too many rumors swirling around, including that he has sent his wife to a convent," said Alexei Malashenko of the Carnegie Moscow Center.

Putin has mixed personal ties with politics in 13 years in power, seeking to strengthen his grip by shuffling his allies around and pushing foes from his path.

Now his wife of 30 years, long absent from his side, is officially out of the picture - almost like a Soviet apparatchik airbrushed from photographs after falling into disfavor.

Putin has championed family values and held out the Russian Orthodox Church as a moral guide for a society he says was set dangerously adrift by the Soviet collapse.

But the rhetoric has rung hollow against a backdrop of speculation he had abandoned Lyudmila, 55, for Olympic rhythmic gymnast Alina Kabayeva, 30, and fathered her child.   Continued...

Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) and his wife Lyudmila cross themselves during Easter service at Christ the Savior Cathedral in Moscow in this April 15, 2001 file photo. REUTERS/Stringer/Files