MOSCOW - Russian President Vladimir Putin said this evening that he and his wife are divorcing after 29 years of marriage.
The announcement confirmed rampant speculation in recent years that their marriage was on the rocks. Their appearance was the first time the couple had been seen together in public in 13 months - since Putin's inauguration in May 2012. It was the first time she had been seen at all since March.
"It was our mutual decision, our marriage is over," Putin told a reporter from state-run television after he and his now ex-wife Ludmilla finished watching a ballet performance.
"We practically never see each other," she said, adding that she does not enjoy public appearances and travel.
If the announcement was no surprise, the way it unfolded certainly was.
The event appeared to be carefully orchestrated. The news anchor for Russia24 that introduced the interview with Putin curiously made no mention that the couple would announce their divorce, instead saying only that their correspondent caught up with them after the ballet.
After a few questions about the performance of the premier of "Esmeralda" - a ballet based on the Hunchback of Notre Dame - the reporter asked about "rumors" that the couple doesn't live together and inquired why they never appear together in public. Such a question would normally be out of bounds in Russia, where Putin has famously guarded his family and reporting on them is considered off limits to the press.
Putin, glancing sheepishly at Ludmilla, confirmed that it was true.
"We will forever remain very close people," the former Mrs. Putin said.
In the interview, however, both of them chose to refer to the other by their Russian patronymic name, which is usually only used in formal situations as a sign of respect, but not usually with a close friend.
Pressed by the reporter whether this was an actual divorce, Ludmilla Putin replied: "Yes, you could say that. This is a civilized divorce."
President Putin also said that his children, who have been rumored to reside abroad, live in Russia.