Vladimir Putin may be renowned across the world as something of an alpha-male, but a new book from Russian journalist Masha Gessen reveals one side of his personality that seems pretty awkward.
In Gessen’s book The Man Without a Face, published in March by Riverhead Books and excerpted this week by the Newsweek, she describes the future Russian leader’s weird courtship of his wife, Ludmila Putin:
Putin’s own descriptions of his romances paint him as a strikingly inept communicator. He had one significant relationship with a woman before meeting his future wife; he left her at the altar. “That’s how it happened,” he told his biographers, explaining nothing. “It was really hard.” He was no more articulate on the subject of the woman he actually married—nor, it seems, was he successful at communicating his feelings to her during their courtship. They dated for more than three years—an extraordinarily long time by Soviet or Russian standards, and at a very advanced age: Putin was almost 31 when they married. Mrs. Putin has gone on record saying it was by no means love at first sight, for at first sight Putin seemed unremarkable and poorly dressed; he has never said anything publicly about his love for her. Her description of the day he finally proposed paints a picture of a profound failure to communicate.
“One evening we were sitting in his apartment, and he says, ‘Little friend, by now you know what I’m like. I am basically not a very convenient person.’ And then he went on to describe himself: not a talker, can be pretty harsh, can hurt your feelings, and so on. Not a good person to spend your life with. And he goes on. ‘Over the course of three and a half years you’ve probably made up your mind.’ I realized we were probably breaking up. So I said, ‘Well, yes, I’ve made up my mind.’ And he said, with doubt in his voice, ‘Really?’ That’s when I knew we were definitely breaking up. ‘In that case,’ he said, ‘I love you and I propose we get married on such and such a day.’ And that was completely unexpected.” They were married three months later. Ludmila moved to Leningrad to live with Putin in the two rooms he shared with his parents.
Of course, this isn’t the first time that Putin’s relationship with his wife has been the subject of scrutiny. The German spy agency BND reportedly described him as a “philanderer and a wifebeater” when he was living in Germany and working for the KGB in the 1980s.
Then, last year Reports surfaced that suggested that Putin had put his long suffering wife in a mental hospital, so that he could focus on his (alleged) lovers — former gymnast Alina Kabaeva and his personal photographer Yana Lapikova.