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 is over.
The end of the marriage of the Russian president and Lyudmila Putina less than two months shy of their 30th anniversary came on state television after a Thursday evening that started out like a model of domestic contentment – a devoted husband taking his wife out for an artsy interlude.
After the performance of Esmeralda at the Great Kremlin Palace, the two came into a luxurious room to speak to a reporter. "Excellent. Great music, excellent production," Putin, 60, said, and Lyudmila echoed his praise.
After about a minute, the reporter asked about rumors that the two didn't live together. Putin smiled slightly, like a boy caught misbehaving, and turned his head toward Lyudmila. "This is so," he said.
It wasn't immediately clear if that meant just separate domiciles. After a few more comments, the reporter gently prodded: "I am afraid to say this word 'divorce.' "
"Yes, this is a civilized divorce," Lyudmila said.
Tabloid reports in 2008 claimed that Putin already had divorced Lyudmila and planned to marry a gymnast less than half his age.
The Interfax news agency cited presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov as saying the divorce has not been formalized and that the televised comments were only an announcement of the decision to divorce.
The Putins married on July 28, 1983, and have two daughters, Maria and Yekaterina, whose lives get little public view.
"We love them very much and we are proud of them," Putin said.
There have been hints that Lyudmila Putina was unhappy. In a 2005 interview with three Russian newspapers, she complained that her husband worked long hours, forgetting that "one needs not only to work, but also to live."