Vladimir Putin: the mysterious love life of Russia's president
As Putin and his wife finalise divorce, here are five things you might not know about his personal life
AS RUSSIA'S most powerful political figure, Vladimir Putin has never been shy of publicity, but his personal life has been kept largely behind closed doors.
He has been photographed with tigers, polar bears and a gang of Harley-Davidson "biker brothers", not to mention wandering half naked around the Siberian wilderness, but he has rarely appeared with his family. Russian journalists find it easier to report on national security than on the Putin family, and there often appears to be an unspoken threat of "repercussions" if reporters dig too deeply, says the New York Times.
So, as he and his wife of 30 years, Lyudmila Putina, finalise their divorce this week, here are five things you might not know about Putin's personal life...
Putin married an air stewardess
Putin's wife Lyudmila, who speaks French, German and Spanish, once worked as a flight attendant, a highly coveted job in the Soviet era. Putin met her in the early 1980s when a mutual friend invited them both to the theatre. "I became friends with Lyuda, my future wife," Putin recalls in a somewhat unromantic account of their relationship. "I understood that if I didn't marry for another two or three years, I would never marry. Though, of course, I had made a habit of leading a bachelor's life. Lyudmila uprooted it."
Putin is ‘like a vampire'
"It is unclear when, precisely, their marriage began to fray, but every account suggests it emerged from their diverging personalities," says the Washington Post. The growing attention on Putin discomfited Putina and she was rarely seen in recent years, even on her own, sparking speculation that she was in a convent. The Moscow Times says she once told a friend that Putin was "a vampire", to which Putin retorted that anyone who could put up with his wife for three weeks "deserved a monument".
Putin has two daughters
Putin and his ex-wife have two daughters, Maria, 28, and Katerina, 27, but they have been seen so rarely that most Russians would not recognise them, says the New York Times. They are believed to have attended college under assumed names, with many of their classmates unaware of their true identities. The St Petersburg Times once revealed that they were friends with former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's daughter Barbara. Their mother also disclosed that Putin had always "spoiled" them, while she was the one to hand out discipline. Even now, it is not known for certain if they live in Russia or abroad, if they are married and what, if anything, they do professionally.
Putin denies affair with Olympic gymnast
One of the most widely reported rumours about Putin is that he has been having an affair with 30-year-old Olympic rhythmic gymnast and Russian MP Alina Kabaeva. Putin denied the rumour after it was published in the Moskovsky Korrespondent in 2008. The newspaper was promptly shut down. Last September, Putin's political rival Alexei Navalny claimed that Putin and Kabayeva had married, but Putin's spokesman dismissed the claims as "an internet exercise to relieve boredom". Both Putin and Kabayeva were seen wearing wedding rings at the Sochi Winter Olympics, and Kabayeva was chosen as a torchbearer at the opening ceremony, rekindling speculation that she was a favourite of the Russian leader, says the BBC.
Putin is officially 'single'
The president and his wife announced their divorce in June last year in a scene described by the New Yorker as "obviously staged". Calling it a "civilised divorce", Lyudmila said the marriage was over "due to the fact that we barely see each other". She added: "Vladimir is completely submerged in his work. Our children have grown up, each of them is living her own life... I truly don't like publicity." While no Russian journalist dared to ask if Putin was seeing someone else, his spokesman later insisted that Putin had no marital plans and there was no other woman in his life.