In a video posted on the government's website Saturday, the Putins -- married for 27 years with two daughters -- answered questions from a census-taker as part of a nationwide population count. However, although the couple selected matching brown outfits to wear during the interview, there were few other signs of marital harmony.
Prime Minister Putin -- who has been linked in some media reports with gold-winning Olympic gymnast Alina Kabaeva, 27 -- sat awkwardly apart from his ex-air-hostess wife. Lyudmila, 52, looked nervous and constantly glanced at her husband, who only occasionally looked her way. He appeared more interested in his black Labrador, Connie, who sat behind him throughout the video.
The footage was supposedly filmed in a living room at the couple's home outside Moscow, which was sparsely furnished with beige sofas and an old television set. However, it's possible that the room was deliberately dressed to appear muted and proletarian, as the prime minister likes to boast that he is a humble Russian who shares the common man's concerns. That claim took a knock when the census taker asked Lyudmila how many languages she spoke, to which Mrs. Putin answered that she was fluent in German, French and Spanish. Putin, 58, criticized his wife for "not [being] modest." She replied: "But it is true."
The air of unease was only broken when the young female census worker asked Putin what his sex was. Momentarily stunned, the prime minister eventually answered "Male," as his wife giggled.
Putin has taken a hard line on Russian media organizations that dare to publicly question his personal life, in order to sustain his popular image as a sober and religious man. Moskovsky Korrespondent, a daily tabloid owned by billionaire businessman Alexander Lebedev -- who now owns the British London Evening Standard and Independent newspapers -- was shut down in 2008 when it claimed that Putin had secretly divorced Lyudmila and intended to marry Kabaeva.
During a visit to Italian prime minister and Lothario Silvio Berlusconi, Putin warned reporters to keep their "snotty noses" out of his private life, and added that there was "not a single word of truth" to the claims published in the Korrespondent.