MOSCOW (REUTERS) - President Vladimir Putin and his wife, Ms Lyudmila, told Russians on Thursday that their 30-year marriage was over, confirming longstanding speculation that they had separated.
In a rare appearance together on state television, Mr Putin was asked about rumours that they no longer lived together and answered: "That is true."
The announcement removes a big question mark about the private life of a president who has increasingly touted traditional values and championed the conservative Russian Orthodox Church as a moral authority.
Politically, Mr Putin may have calculated that it was better to be seen coming clean about the separation than to be suspected of living a secret life.
The couple looked nervous as they stood side by side on a parquet floor in the Kremlin, speaking to a lone reporter. Mr Putin smiled woodenly as Ms Lyudmila spoke, though they both appeared more relaxed after dropping the bombshell.
Ms Lyudmila, a former airline stewardess five years younger than the 60-year-old president, said it had been "our common decision".
"Our marriage is over due to the fact that we barely see each other," she said. Mr Putin also said it had been "a joint decision".
The Putins married in 1983 and have two daughters, both in their 20s. The announcement comes one year into a third presidential term for Mr Putin, who has not ruled out seeking re-election in 2018.
The couple have made only rare, sometimes awkward, appearances together over recent years, prompting media speculation that they had secretly divorced.
In 2008, Mr Putin said there was no truth to a newspaper report that he was preparing to marry Olympic rhythmic gymnast Alina Kabayeva, who was born the same year he married Ms Lyudmila. The newspaper folded shortly afterwards.
Mrs Lyudmila Putin has been all but invisible in recent years and there has been speculation she had moved into a convent.
The Putins spoke to Rossiya-24 TV after attending a ballet performance in the Kremlin, in what at first appeared to be a staged effort to show that they were still together.
After answering questions at length about the ballet, the Putins were asked about the rumours they lived apart.
"That is true. All my activity is linked to public affairs... and there are people who are totally incompatible with that," Mr Putin said. He added with a chuckle: "Lyudmila Alexandrovna has done her shift." Ms Lyudmila said: "Vladimir Vladimirovich is completely submerged in his work. Our children have grown up, each of them is living her own life.... And I truly don't like publicity.".
Putin added: "Lyudmila Alexandrovna and I will always remain close - forever, I am sure." Neither clarified whether their marriage was legally dissolved, although Ms Lyudmila said it was a "civilised divorce".
Mr Putin's spokesman said he did not know.
"They separated a long time ago," Mr Dmitry Peskov said. "I don't know if the divorce has been formalised, but I can confirm that we are talking about a civilised divorce."