PORTO ROTONDO, Sardinia – Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday denied a tabloid report that he had divorced his wife and intended to marry a champion gymnast less than half his age.
"There is not a single word of truth" to the report carried by a Moscow tabloid, Putin said at a news conference in Sardinia with incoming Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi.
But he did not stop there. Putin, who has seemed to enjoy playing up the image of a ladies' man and who clearly relished the question from the Kremlin pool reporter, went on to say that he likes all Russian women.
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"In other publications of the same type, the names of other successful, beautiful young women from Russia are mentioned," he said. "I think it won't be unexpected if I say that I like them all — just as I like all Russian women."
He called Russian women "the most talented and beautiful" in the world.
"If anyone can compete, it may be only Italian women," Putin said, in a nod to his Italian hosts.
The tabloid Moskovsky Korrespondent reported Saturday that Putin, 55, divorced his wife, Lyudmila, two months ago and planned to marry Alina Kabayeva, 24, a former champion rhythmic gymnast. His wife did not accompany him to Sardinia.
Kabayeva, who won a gold medal at the 2004 Summer Games, is now a member of the lower house of Russia's parliament from the pro-Kremlin party.
Her spokeswoman has refused to comment on the report, which said the information came from the close friend of the head of a company bidding to hold the wedding in St. Petersburg on June 15.
Putin, using the earthy language that has become his trademark, scolded the press for intruding on his private life.
"I have always had a negative opinion of those who, with their snotty noses and their erotic fantasies, meddle in other people's lives," he said.
The tabloid report, largely ignored in the Russian press, has had wide play in European newspapers.