Kremlin Denies Putin Affair, Says Divorce Announcement Not Staged

Alexander Zemlianichenko/AP

MOSCOW - In an attempt to beat back rumors about the cause of President Putin's announcement that he is divorcing his wife of nearly 30 years, Putin's spokesman today denied there was another woman in the president's life and said he had no plans to re-marry soon.

"There is no other woman in the president's life," Dmitri Peskov told the radio station Ekho Moskvy.

"Even an accidental person will understand, looking at Putin's schedule, that his life is not connected with any family relations in any way, unfortunately. It is entirely centered on his duties and responsibilities as president," he said in an attempt to explain the split. He said that the couple had not yet formalized their divorce.

As for any plans to re-marry, Peskov said: "I can say for sure that these are mere speculations and rumors rather than anything else."

Putin's marriage was long rumored to be on the rocks, in large part because he and his wife Lyudmila were rarely seen together in public. Thursday was their first joint appearance since Putin's inauguration in May 2012. She had not been seen in public at all since March.

Rumors have swirled for years that Putin had fallen for an Olympic gymnast half his age, even having two children with her. Alina Kabaeva won the gold medal in rhythmic gymnastics at the 2004 Olympics in Athens and a bronze in the 2000 Sydney games. In 2007 she was elected to the State Duma, the lower house of parliament, as a member of the ruling United Russia party.

Kabaeva was the subject of an hour-long documentary on state-run television earlier this year, an unusual tribute, fueling speculation that she had a special relationship with Putin. During the program she denied having any children.

Peskov, meanwhile, appeared to be making the rounds today to frame Thursday's surprise announcement. Some reports have suggested that the announcement was staged, in part because the question from a reporter for a state-run television channel would normally have gotten her fired. Putin's family has long been considered out of bounds for Russian reporters.

Oddly, the anchor for Russia24, the news channel that broadcast the interview, made no mention of the divorce news when introducing the story. Instead, she said only that Putin and his wife had watched a ballet that evening and that their correspondent had caught up with them afterward.

The camera shows the first couple walking towards the reporter who asked a few questions about the ballet ("La Esmeralda," a ballet based on Victor Hugo's "Hunchback of Notre Dame") but then quickly pivoted to the bombshell question.

"You so rarely appear together, and there are rumors that you do not live together. Is that so?" she asked.

Putin confirmed it was true and his wife eventually said that the couple had mutually agreed to what she called a "civilized divorce."

Mrs. Putin, a former flight attendant, said she did not like the flying and public appearances that were associated with her husband's position.

Today, Peskov insisted that the announcement was not staged.

"It just happened so. Just the journalist asked the question, and the president answered," he said, according to the Interfax news agency.

Previous attempts to delve into Putin's private life have not gone so smoothly. In 2008, the Russian newspaper Moskovsky Korrespondent was shuttered after publishing a report that Putin planned to marry Kabaeva, the gymnast.

Today, Peskov asked that people "respect" Putin's personal life.

"Anything that concerns Vladimir Putin's private life concerns only him, and he has never made it public. This is his principle, he has deserved this right, and let's treat it with respect," he said.