MOSCOW (AFP) - President Vladimir Putin let slip during his annual news conference Thursday that he "loves" and is loved in return, but refused to reveal the identity of his mystery partner.
A young female journalist from a provincial television channel put the question to Putin, saying that "the friends of my aunt" had all badgered her to find out the relationship status of "Russia's top bachelor".
"Give a big hello to your aunt's friends, thanks for such attention," Putin said smoothly, before going into a long spiel about mortgages.
But he then returned to his love life, bizarrely recounting a conversation he had with a friend he described only as a top boss in Europe.
- "Listen, do you have a love?" the friend asked.
- "In what way?" Putin responded.
- "Well do you love someone?" - "Well yes." - "And does someone love you?" - "Yes." - "Well thank God."
The friend was so pleased at the news that he "downed a vodka," Putin said.
The Russian leader refused to give any more details, only reassuring his supporters: "Everything is in order. Don't worry."
Putin has been linked to Alina Kabayeva, a former Olympic rhythmic gymnast 31 years his junior who until recently was an MP in Russia's ruling party.
In 2008, a Moscow newspaper reported that Putin was on the point of marrying Kabayeva.
Putin angrily denied the report and the intrusion into his personal life, as did Kabayeva.
The Moskovsky Korrespondent newspaper shut down shortly afterwards. Its wealthy owner, Alexander Lebedev, later bought Britain's The Independent and Evening Standard newspapers.
The 62-year-old Russian president last year announced he was divorcing from his wife of 30 years, Lyudmila, who shared his life as a spy in East Germany, and with whom he has two daughters.
Putin said on Thursday that he remained on good terms with his ex.
"With Lyudmila Alexandrovna I have very good relations, friendly ones. We regularly see each other, I'm not even talking about our children, that goes without saying. Not as often as I'd like, but everything's all right."
Putin in an interview last month revealed that his daughters Maria and Yekaterina - with whom he is never photographed in public - both live in Moscow and that he sees them at least once a month.