The world learned last Thursday that Russian dictator Vladimir Putin had once again pulled the wool over its eyes.
It turns out that Putin’s thirty-year marriage has been a sham for more than a decade, and he is in fact divorced. Putin withheld the news about his marital woes during the last election cycle so it could not be used against him, and further, so he could continue leveraging himself as an upstanding family man. The appearance of a valid marriage could be used to squelch rumors that Putin had emotionally abused his wife for years, and that he had not only cheated on her with 29-year-old rhythmic gymnast Alina Kabaeva, but had fathered one or more children with the flexible young lady. A photograph of Putin leering at her went viral, despite his denials.
Earlier this month, Putin appeared on national TV with Lyudmila Putina and announced it was over. The announcement came during intermission while the couple was attending a performance of the ballet La Esmeralda. As Russia pundit Masha Lipman notes, Putin wasn’t asked during the interview the obvious question of whether he was seeing someone else at present. Don’t citizens have a right to know who is sleeping in their president’s bed? She reminds readers of how Putin’s hero dealt with this issue: “Joseph Stalin addressed the family question in a most radical way: he drove his wife to a suicide and had her relatives executed.”
The news was not entirely unexpected. When a Russian newspaper reported in 2008 that Putin had gotten divorced and would soon take up with Kabaeva, Putin was furious. He blasted a reporter with vitriol at a press conference when asked about the report (a foreign reporter, as no Russian would dare to ask the question for fear of being jailed or even killed):
I am, of course, aware of the hackneyed phrase and stamp that politicians live in a glass house. But even in these cases, there must be some limits. I always thought badly of those who go around with their erotic fantasies sticking their snot-ridden noses into another person’s life.
Soon after, that Russian newspaper went out of business.
Now, of course, Putin has acknowledged that his divorce actually is the nation’s business when he says so. The neo-Soviet censorship continued, however: when a Russian state-controlled TV show called The Social Network tried to air a skit about Putin placing a personal ad following the divorce announcement, the entire episode was immediately killed.
It’s hard to feel compassion for Lyudmila because, like the Russian people themselves, she had fair warning about Putin’s nature long before she married him. In Vladimir Putin: The Road to Power and Fragile Friendships, two books published just after Putin ascended to the Russian presidency, authors Oleg Blotsky and Irene Pietsch detailed the horrors of dating and living with Putin. Lyudmila, a stewardess for Aeroflot, didn’t even know Putin was in the KGB until they’d been seeing each other for 18 months. Lyudmila was a woman of remarkably low standards, as many Russian females are forced to be. It’s somewhat unusual for a Russian man to live as long as sixty, and like many Russian women, Lyudmila pledged herself to Putin simply because he was employed, interested in her, and didn’t drink to excess or beat her. Before they married, Putin routinely arrived more than an hour late for their dates. Afterwards, he ridiculed her cooking and left her to fend for herself when she delivered her first child.
And consider this: It has just been revealed by Patriots owner Robert Kraft that Putin pocketed and walked off with his precious and irreplaceable Superbowl ring when shown it briefly on a trip to Moscow. The reason? Putin admired the ring because he believed he could “kill someone” with it. Kraft was then forced by the Bush administration to say he’d given the ring as a gift in order to avoid a diplomatic incident.
Putin has also openly joked that he admired the former president of Israel for being accused of rape.
In a review of a new book detailing the demographic crisis now sweeping Russia, The Last Man in Russia, Russia correspondent Ellen Barry writes:
Why do Russians consume alcohol the way they do? In many nations people drink to blot out their memories. But Russians, especially those stuck in withering villages, seem intent on drinking themselves into nonexistence, pouring spirits down their throats so systematically, and in such reliably lethal quantities, that their behavior provides a scientific definition of despair.