MOSCOW -- The surprise announcement about the Russian first couple’s divorce has spawned a flurry of reaction, including debate about what President Vladimir Putin will do next and a fair share of cynical jokes and commentary.
State-controlled and pro-Kremlin news outlets supported the president’s decision to divorce his longtime wife, Lyudmila Putina, some calling it a “heroic act for truth.”
The divorce will not hurt Putin’s popularity ratings, Ria-Novosti, a state-controlled news service, reported, citing pro-Kremlin political scientists. In fact, it could make him more appealing to Russians as a leader who is honest about his problems and is fully dedicated to his work, it said. Not to mention, it added, that women will find the newly single Putin more attractive.
“Knowing Putin, we can only guess how difficult it was for him to take this step. But he did it. And there is no doubt that he did it for her, as a man is obliged to do,” said a pro-Kremlin tabloid Life News piece titled “Adults.”
There is no “other woman,” and Putin will not be getting married again any time soon, said the president’s press secretary, Dmitry Peskov, in response to the rumors that Putin has eloped with former gymnast and current State Duma Deputy Alina Kabayeva.
Independent journalists and opposition news outlets had a different take.
Some said the carefully orchestrated divorce announcement was part of a campaign to distract the public from corruption in the upcoming Moscow mayoral election, and the fact that there are at least 15 people in Russia’s jails or under house arrest for protesting against Putin last May.
“Lyudmila Putina will temporarily perform the duties of Vladimir Putin’s wife, until a new Putin’s wife will be elected on Sept. 8,” quipped comedian Mikhail Shats in a video that went viral on social networking websites. "Vladimir Putin approved Lyudmila’s candidacy as an independent."
The joke refers to the September mayoral election in which recently resigned Moscow mayor, Sergei Sobyanin, who is close to Putin, will run as an independent. Sobyanin inspired the “Putin’s wife” quip after he appeared with the president at an Easter service with Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev and his wife earlier this year.
Putin announced the couple's decision to end their nearly 30-year marriage on state television Thursday.
“We practically never saw each other,” Putin told a reporter from the Rossiya 24 network as the couple departed a Kremlin ballet performance. “To each his own life.”
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Narizhnaya is a special correspondent.