Do Vladimir Putin’s “sad eyes” reveal an unhappy marriage? Yes, according to a Russian financial analyst after hearing the couple announce late Thursday night that the Russian strongman and his wife were divorcing after 30 years of marriage.
The Putins revealed their plans to divorce on state television after attending a ballet performance at the Kremlin.
“It was our joint decision,” 60-year-old Putin said.
While the public announcement may have come as a shock in Russia, rumors of his unhappy marriage and his liaison with Olympic gymnastics champion, Alina Kabayeva, have been swirling in the media for the past two years. For ordinary Russians, the announcement late on Thursday just confirmed what they had known for a long time.
“For Russia this is an absolutely unprecedented phenomenon. Over the past 200 years no Russian leader lifted the veil off his private life,” said a Russian prominent sociologist who studies the elites.
Russian spouses have traditionally been expected to remain out of the public eye and “blend in” according to some media reports. The Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev’s wife, Riasa, was an exception.
Putin and his wife, Lyudmila, an ex-stewardess with a characteristic dislike of publicity, may have broken a Kremlin taboo by going public in announcing an unhappy marriage.
Although, many Kremlin leaders have engaged in extra-marital affairs, their relationships were kept away from the public. Few Russians publicly talked about Bolshevik Revolution Vladimir Lenin’s romantic liaison with Inessa Armand, a married woman, or Tsar Nicholas II’s romance with ballerina Mathilda Kshesinskaya before his marriage to Alexandra.
In the past, Putin, too, has fiercely tried to protect his privacy. After rumors circulated about his romantic involvement with Kabayeva, he famously told reporters to “keep their snotty noses” out of his private business.
A Russian newspaper, the Moskovsky Korrespondent, owned by billionaire oligarch Alexander Lebedev, shut down in 2008 after its editor was forced to resign when he defied the Kremlin by reporting that Putin was planning to marry gymnast Kabeva, who was half his age. The newspaper claimed that Putin had already divorced his wife.
The paper later retracted the story, stating there was no factual basis for their its claim. In shutting down the paper, Mr. Lebedev cited financial concerns but, in effect, many suspected it was to appease Putin. Putin’s private life had become a top secret of state.
Russian analysts doubted that divorce announcement would be made publicly, although many Russians suspected his impending divorce.
Over the last few years, the Russian first lady has been conspicuously absent from official functions, including foreign visits. However, few reporters were inclined to raise the issue.
“Now it is clear why the president’s spouse has not recently played the role of the first lady. Everyone would have discussed the coldness with which they treat each other, and this would have hurt the image of the newly-elected leader of the nation,” stated a Russian liberal news website.
What prompted Thursday’s disclosure, which came after unprecedented anti-Putin protests over the last 18 months, is unclear.
Some analysts said that what Russians would want to know now, is whether Putin, after ending his unhappy marriage, remarries or remains single.
According to some reports, if Putin marries the young gymnast, many conservative voters will not be pleased. If he remains single, he may even boost his sagging approval ratings.
“Many people will think: ‘He is just like us. His private life did not turn out well. He is human’,” said an analyst.
The Putins married on July 28, 1983 and have two daughters, Maria, 27, and Yekaterina, 26.
By Perviz Walji