Moscow: Vladimir Putin`s carefully staged announcement that his marriage is over appears at odds with his declared conservative values but would make sense if the Russian president plans to remarry, analysts said Friday.
In a country where there is a divorce for every two marriages, the announcement by Putin and Lyudmila, his wife of 30 years, may not make a dent in his popularity ratings, but is out of synch with his pronouncements about the values of traditional family.
The awkward announcement, made Thursday evening after the pair attended a ballet performance together in Moscow, lifted the lid on the poorly kept secret that Putin and the first lady are separated -- which had been the subject of years of muckraking but had never been officially revealed.
"The news is that Putin`s private life became a subject of public discussion for the first time," said political analyst Maria Lipman of Carnegie Centre in Moscow.
State channels on Friday were replaying the interview, in which Lyudmila, 55, bashfully said the divorce is "civilised" and that the 60-year-old president "really cares" about their two daughters.
Over the years, the personal life of the Putins became a subject of constant unconfirmed rumours, including one that the Russian president has two children with Olympic champion rhythmic gymnast Alina Kabayeva, now a lawmaker and 30 years old.
Lyudmila made regular public appearances during Putin`s first two terms in the Kremlin. However, she gradually disappeared from view after that and was conspicuously absent at many events where her presence was expected.
Tabloids at one point suggested that Lyudmila was staying at a monastery in western Russia.
When Putin stood side by side with Moscow mayor Sergei Sobyanin at an Easter ceremony in Cathedral of Christ the Saviour last month, while Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev stood with his wife, the president became the target of another round of jokes.
"There is a critical mass of rumours, the (popularity) rating is falling, and the image of an efficient politician is eroding," said Lev Gudkov, the head of independent pollster Levada Centre.
"It seems that stating the fact was deemed more rational."
Divorce is frowned upon by the ultra-conservative Orthodox Church, and Putin himself declared this year that a "traditional family with lots of children should be a symbol of Russia."
"Putin lately has spoken about family values as the foundation for everything else, and suddenly he pulls this out of his sleeve.... It goes against his own rhetoric," said analyst Stanislav Belkovsky.
Putin`s spokesman Dmitry Peskov on Friday denied any rumours that the president has a relationship with another woman.
"It`s not difficult to take a look at Putin`s work schedule. And you will see that his life, perhaps unfortunately, is in no way tied to any family relationships, only to those responsibilities that he has as the head of state," he told the Echo of Moscow radio station.
An imminent second marriage is "rather closer to the category of rumours and gossip," he added.
Observers however said that the public announcement ultimately serves little practical purpose, and that creating an image of a man completely devoted to his country -- along the lines of Joseph Stalin -- would never work in today`s Russia.
"In the modern world it is impossible to recreate a Stalin-esque image... of a man who thinks only about the motherland," said independent analyst Dmitry Oreshkin.
"If there is a new marriage, then it will be clear why the (divorce announcement) was done."
"Something has to follow," said Lipman, of the Carnegie Centre. "Putin wanted people to know, and the question is why he needs the divorce. To start a new marriage? It`s possible that we will find out about another woman."