MOSCOW - It was a rare public sighting of Russia’s premier political couple, but in the end it served only to fuel the already rampant questions about whether they are much of a couple at all anymore.
Lyudmila A. Putin entered a polling station on Election Day last month half a step behind her husband, Vladimir V. Putin, the once and future president.
When an election worker pointed to candidate information on a wall, Putin said he did not need it, but gesturing at his wife of 29 years, he added, “She’s not up to speed.’’
Lyudmila Putin chuckled. Then her husband left her behind, walking away to insert his ballot in the box and to talk with reporters while she continued to fill out paperwork.
Though they ultimately left with her holding his arm, some of the reaction the next day was biting. One photograph, which circulated on the Internet, showed Putin seeming to shake his wife’s hand at the polling station. It carried the caption, “Until we meet in six years,’’ referring to when he is next up for reelection.
The Putins are seen so rarely together that it is unclear if she will attend his inauguration Monday or if she will perform any duties in Putin’s new term.
But if the Election Day appearance reinforced rumors of a strained marriage, it was also a reminder of the nearly impenetrable secrecy that has enveloped them and their two daughters since Putin, a former KGB agent, rose to power 12 years ago. The longer he rules Russia, the more reports about his family life seem to be taboo.
The Russian leader and his wife are widely believed to live apart, but it is unclear where she spends most of her time. Their daughters attended college under assumed names, and many of their classmates did not know their true identities. Even now, it is not known if they live in Russia or abroad and what, if anything, they do professionally.
Russian journalists say it is easier to report on national security issues than on the Putin family, and there often seems to be an unspoken threat that there will be serious repercussions if reporters dig too deeply.
Even more extraordinary is the virtual invisibility of their daughters: Maria, who recently turned 27, and Yekaterina, 25. They are members of the Facebook generation who cannot be found on Facebook or any other social media site.