MOSCOW — Russian President Vladimir Putin was seen with his wife, Lyudmila, on Thursday night for the first time in a year, at a production of the ballet “La Esmeralda,” and took advantage of the occasion to tell his nation that they are getting divorced.
During the first intermission of the performance, at the Kremlin State Palace, the couple was interviewed by the Russia 24 news channel. After exchanging a few pleasantries about the ballet, the reporter mentioned that the Putins are rarely seen together.
“There are so many rumors that you’re divorced,” the reporter said. “Is this correct?”
“This is correct,” Putin said. Looking at Lyudmila, who was wearing a black outfit with white accents, he said, “All my work is related to publicity. But there are people who are absolutely incompatible with this, for instance, Lyudmila Alexandrovna” — using a formal style of address that includes her patronymic. It’s a way of talking that long-married couples occasionally resort to — sometimes with fondness. It would be like President Obama referring to his wife as “Mrs. Obama.”
“We hardly see each other, and we each have our own lives,” Lyudmila Putin said. “I don’t like publicity, and flying wears me down. We will remain very close people forever, and I am grateful to Vladimir Vladimirovich” — again, the polite form of address — “that he still supports me.”
Both said the divorce was a joint decision. They called their divorce civilized but didn’t say whether it had been legally formalized.
The last time they were seen in public together was in May 2012, at his inauguration, when he was shown accepting her congratulations as if they had been apart for a long time. Lyudmila Putin has been reported to be living in Sardinia, among other places, and to be spending time in Paris.
“She was a woman who loved and was not loved,” Nataliya Gevorkyan, who wrote a biography of Vladimir Putin in 2000, said in a recent interview in Paris.
Lyudmila Putin was an Aeroflot flight attendant from Kaliningrad when the couple met. Vladimir Putin was a young KGB agent. He had already left one fiancée at the altar — also named Lyudmila. They married in 1983.
She followed him to Dresden, in East Germany at the time, then back to St. Petersburg and on to Moscow when he took a job in the Kremlin. Along the way, they had two daughters, now grown.
As president, Putin has made a fetish of appearing to work inhuman hours, often interspersed with bouts of intense physical activity.
The Putins had entered the theater Thursday to brief and uncomfortable applause, with some in the audience standing awkwardly as if startled by their appearance. Their being together rated a news item by the RIA Novosti news agency. After the interview, conducted while they stood side by side in a room off the auditorium, the Putins left the theater. They missed the last two acts of the melodramatic ballet based on “The Hunchback of Notre Dame,” the Victor Hugo novel.