There are conflicting reports going back and forth about President Putin divorcing his wife to be with a famous 24 years old gymnast from the former Soviet country of Uzbekistan.

Although I’m not surprised by this because this can be quite common here.. I am surprised that this story has hit the public the way it has.

President Putin who is 55 is reported to be in a serious relationship with Ms. Alina Kabaeva who is 31 years his junior.

If this happened in the US then the explosive scandal it would create would be beyond huge.  But here in the FSU it’s treated with celebrity fascination.

Here is what one of the articles says..

So, Mr Putin, what do you see in this nubile 24-year-old rhythmic gymnast?
– By Richard Pendlebury

This is the kind of question Mrs Merton might ask:

“So, Vladimir Putin, President of Russia, what do you see in a 24-year-old, sensationally beautiful gymnast with a penchant for posing semi-naked that you don’t see in your lovely, middle-aged, matronly wife Ludmilla?”

It is also the kind of question that hardly needs answering for the millions who have tuned in to the YouTube film of Alina Kabaeva performing a decidedly provocative gymnastic routine.

This sudden frenzied interest in a woman who, until yesterday, was frankly a rather obscure Russian athlete, comes after a Moscow newspaper reported that Mr Putin recently split with Ludmilla and is preparing to marry the young and very pretty Miss Kabaeva.

Mr Putin today appeared to relish being linked to a beautiful gymnast less than half his age as he gave a press conference alongside Italian leader Silvio Berlusconi – himself no stranger to allegations of womanising.

Denying the claims of a divorce and marriage plans, 55-year-old Mr Putin seemed to enjoy playing up the image of a ladies’ man.

“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 women of his homeland “the most talented and beautiful” in the world – adding diplomatically: “If anyone can compete, it may be only Italian women.”

Despite his denials, some commentators wondered whether the rumoured link with the gymnast might explain why Mr Putin suddenly posed topless for the cameras on a Siberian fishing holiday last summer.

While his muscled and hairless torso were a particular hit among female and gay voters, perhaps he was simply trying to impress his new mistress.

There is added piquancy in the fact that, despite her youth, Miss Kabaeva has recently been made an MP.

The gymnast is one of a number of young and beautiful Russian dancers and athletes who, under Mr Putin’s patronage, have lately become deputies in the Duma – Russia’s lower parliament.

Known as Putinskie Krasotki – “Putin’s Babes” – they were brought in with the cynical but successful aim of “sexing up” his United Russia party.

The bloc took more than 60 per cent of the vote in the December elections.

One Russian spin-doctor boasted at the time of their arrival in the Duma: “We are now definitely ahead of all parties in terms of ladies with sex appeal among our MPs.

“These young women are full of energy and eagerness to become serious law-makers.”

That remains to be seen. After all, it would be like Gordon Brown packing the backbenches at Westminster with a confection of the pop group Girls Aloud, the triumphant British women’s cycling team and topless dancers from London nightclub Stringfellows.

To be fair to Miss Kabaeva – already promoted to deputy head of the Duma’s committee on youth affairs – she is more demure than her fellow Babes, one of whom has posed naked for Playboy.

Yes, Miss Kabaeva has taken off her clothes for a magazine, but poses tastefully wrapped in a fur rug. Her modesty is protected by lingerie in other shots. All the same, Ruth Kelly she ain’t.

But how did Mr Putin actually get to know Miss Kabaeva?

One of Russia’s most popular beauties, she is the reigning Olympic rhythmic gymnastic champion and global darling of the sport.

She is said to be blessed with “extreme flexibility” and practically unbeatable when performing “on the carpet” – to use a gymnastic term.

“I could not believe my eyes when I first saw her,” recalls her coach Irina Vine.

“The girl has the rare combination of two qualities crucial in rhythmic gymnastics – flexibility and agility.”

The sport is a combination of ballet, dance and gymnastics in which competitors manipulate ropes, balls, clubs, hoops and ribbons.

And Alina was very good. Aged only 15, she won the gold medal in the 1998 European Championships. The following year she secured the world title and was favourite to repeat the success at the 2000 Sydney Olympics.

Disaster struck, however, when she dropped her hoop and it rolled off the carpet. She went home with only a bronze and all of Russia wept with her.

It is said that this was when she first came to Mr Putin’s attention and made his acquaintance.

There was more embarrassment at the Goodwill Games in Brisbane the following year when, having won five medals, she tested positive for a banned diuretic.

She was stripped of her titles, though her coach said that it had been an honest mistake, caused by using an Australian food supplement.

Joy was unconfined when Alina won the All-Around rhythmic gold medal at the 2004 Athens Olympics. The sport had a new superstar and pin-up girl.

But a knee injury was dogging her career and, after one retirement and a comeback, she announced in February that her time on the carpet was at an end … Time to concentrate on politics and support for her President.

What then of the first First Lady? 50-year-old Ludmilla Putin’s talents lie in linguistics. She has a degree in Spanish, can speak French and has taught German at Leningrad State University in Mr Putin’s home city of St Petersburg.

She married him there in July 1983. At the time of the wedding, Miss Kabaeva, was only two months old.

Ludmilla followed her husband on his KGB postings and lived in East Germany for four years, where one of their two daughters, Maria and Katja now aged 23 and 21, were born.

But rumours about the state of the Putin marriage have been rife for some time in Moscow media circles.

The story that she and the President have already, in fact, divorced appeared in the Moscow tabloid Moscovski Korrespondent.

The newspaper claimed that the secret divorce came through in February and that Mr Putin would marry the gymnast-turned-MP in St Petersburg on June 15.

The article cited a source close to an event planning company saying the firm was competing for the right to host the wedding at an imperial palace on this date.

By that time, Mr Putin will have stepped down from the presidency and have been replaced by his hand-picked successor Dmitry Medvedev.

Mr Putin will become prime minister and chairman of the ruling party, United Russia.

No one in Russia or elsewhere believes that by leaving the office of president he will have relinquished any of his real power.

As the story of his divorce circulated around Moscow, it was claimed that Mr Putin had been seen having an intimate dinner with Kabaeva in a city centre restaurant earlier this year.

Last night, her father muddied the waters when he said he hadn’t heard if his daughter was marrying or not.

But he added: “If she marries such a man it will be great. He’s quite similar to me.”

Neither the Kremlin nor a spokesman for Miss Kabaeva were prepared to comment. Some even suggest the story has been deliberately leaked by the Kremlin to allow them to impose further restrictions on Russia’s mass media.

About the only interesting point I can emphasize is the fact that this young lady is from the capital city of Tashkent in Uzbekistan.  And although I haven’t had the chance to visit this country yet I have quite a few friends from this city.  And they tell me with a certain measure of pride in their voices..

That there are MANY beautiful and good girls in their city and that someday I should see this for myself.

Well I certainly appreciate their offer but I’m not in any real hurry.

Besides if this Tashkent girl has so utterly mesmerized Mr. Putin..

Then I’m sure there are many more like her with the same magical abilities.

And one of you Gentlemen should be the first to find this out.