Putin denies marriage plans with ex-gymnast
Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday denied tabloid rumours of a divorce from his wife Lyudmila and plans to wed 24-year-old former Olympic gymnast-turned-politician Alina Kabayeva.
"You are talking about an article in our yellow press. Other such journals mention other successful, beautiful young women and girls. I think it's not shocking to say that I like them all," Putin told journalists during a visit with Italian Prime Minister-elect Silvio Berlusconi to Sardinia.
"I personally consider our Russian women to be the world's most talented and the most beautiful," Putin said, undoubtedly setting hearts thumping across his native land, where not only tabloids went wild with bare-chested shots of the president fishing last summer.
"If anyone can compete with them, it's the Italians," Putin added diplomatically.
Russian daily Moskovsky Korrespondent ignited the rumours this week reporting that Putin had divorced his wife Lyudmila two months ago and was planning a June wedding, timed after he steps down as president in May.
The girl "to be envied by all of Russia" the paper said is rhythmic gymnastic champion Kabayeva, who was elected to Russia's Duma last year as a delegate for Putin's favourite party, United Russia.
The curvaceous gymnast has been pictured semi-naked draped in furs, in shots that recall pictures sold this month of France's new First Lady, Carla Bruni-Sarkozy and the media frenzy that surrounded her romance with the president.
But compared to most other world leaders, very little is known about the personal life of Putin, the 55-year-old ex-KGB agent who succeeded Boris Yeltsin eight years ago and who is practically unknown in the west.
Russian First Lady Lyudmila, is rarely in the limelight and the couple's two daughters, Masha and Katya, live under pseudonyms.
An over four-hour-long press conference with Putin on Valentine's Day only once touched on his personal life.
Asked how his wife, who is said to have cried when he assumed office, reacted to news that he would stay in politics, Putin answered tersely, "She was not overjoyed."
Berlusconi's villa in Sardinia is one of the few spots where the Putin family has repeatedly vacationed, and the Kremlin leader, seemingly relaxed, shared some of his characteristically colourful language.
"Thank God, people have stopped asking about Chechnya ... but there are some decencies to observe," he said. "I've always associated negatively with those who try to climb into other people's lives with their runny noses and erotic fantasies."
Putin added that while popular language has it that politicians live in "glass houses," he laid stake to "a private life that none has a right to interfere with."