Russian President Vladimir Putin and his wife of 29 years, Lyudmilla Putin, announced Thursday on state television that they are divorcing. "It was our joint decision," she said, according to the Associated Press translation. “I don’t like publicity, and flying is difficult for me." Moscow-run Voice of Russia translated her words as, "I have problems with flying."
"I don't like flying" is a strange rationale for divorce after three decades of marriage to a man who spent five years as prime minister and nine as president, not to mention a career in the KGB, all of which has presumably involved a great deal of flying. If she has a problem with flying so severe that it would break up their marriage, wouldn't they have split up many years ago?
To make things stranger still, there's good evidence that Russia's first lady actually loves to fly. To wit, her first career was as a flight attendant for Aeroflot, for which she was working domestic flights out of Kaliningrad when she met her future ex-husband.
Here's a snip, told by Lyudmilla herself, from the Putin family's official autobiography, "First Person: An Astonishingly Frank Self-Portrait by Russia's President":
I'm from Kaliningrad. I worked as a stewardess on domestic flights. There were no international flights to Kaliningrad. After all, it was a closed city. Our flight crew was small and young.
My girlfriend and I flew to Leningrad for three days. She was also a stewardess on our crew, and she invited me to the Lensoviet Theater, to a performance by Arkady Raikin. She had been invited by a boy, but she was afraid to go by herself, so she invited me along. When the boy heard that she had invited me, he brought Volodya [an affectionate name for Vladimir Putin].
The three of us – myself, my girlfriend, and her friend – met on Nevsky Prospect, near the Duma building, where there is a theatre ticket office. Volodya was standing on the steps of the ticket office. He was very modestly dressed. I would even say he was poorly dressed. He looked very unprepossessing. I wouldn't have paid any attention to him on the street.
It gets a pretty boring from there, but Lyudmilla recalls: "During that first trip, I fell in love with Leningrad at first sight. It was because I had such a good time."
Although Lyudmilla recalls that she did not "fall" for Putin at first, she still flew from Kaliningrad to Leningrad every time they had a date. Let me repeat that: The woman who now says she is so troubled by flying that she must divorce her husband used to take 600-mile flights just for their first dates.
"I began to fly to Leningrad for dates," she recalls in the family autobiography. "How do most people travel for dates? On a tram, or a bus, or a taxi. But I flew to my dates." She says that her air crew didn't fly to Leningrad so she had to buy the tickets herself.
Maybe it's a bit much to put all this scrutiny on the dissolution of a prominent political leader's marriage, but it's hard to resist noting just how tough it is to buy this official story. Alas, perhaps the story is little more than a polite cover, just plausible-sounding enough to let everyone walk away with their dignity.