President Vladimir Putin's carefully stage-managed announcement that he and his wife of 30 years were divorcing came as a true shock in Russia, AFP reports.
That his marriage to Lyudmila, a quiet ex-stewardess with an inherent dislike of publicity, may have long been dead has for years been the subject of gossip among the elites and ordinary Russians.
But the Kremlin's move to officially announce Putin's divorce smashed a long-standing taboo on the private lives of the country's leaders.
"For Russia this is an absolutely unprecedented phenomenon. Over the past 200 years no Russian leader lifted the veil off his private life," said Olga Kryshtanovskaya, a prominent sociologist who studies the elites.
With the exception of the prominent late wife of last Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, Raisa, the spouses of Soviet leaders were expected to blend into the background.
The dramas of the Kremlin leaders' private lives were expected to be kept away from the public eye.
The happy marriage of leader of the Bolshevik Revolution Vladimir Lenin to his comrade Nadezhda Krupskaya was an undisputed fact in Soviet Russia.
Few Soviets knew of Lenin's romantic liaison with a married woman, Inessa Armand.
The privacy of the Russian tsars was also fiercely protected before the 1917 October revolution.
Tsar Nicholas II was portrayed as a devoted husband and father, even though his affair with ballerina Mathilda Kshesinskaya before his marriage to Alexandra was well-known.
Putin, too, had sought to protect his privacy for many years. The Russian strongman, who has dominated Russia for the past 13 years, famously told reporters to "keep their snotty noses" out of his private business.
Rumours swirled for years that Putin was allegedly in a relationship with Olympic gymnastics champion Alina Kabayeva and some reports suggested the two could even have a child together.
But after the Moskovsky Korrespondent reported in 2008 that Putin was secretly engaged to Kabayeva, its owner Alexander Lebedev retracted the story and shut down the newspaper.
Putin's private life has essentially become a top state secret.
Over the past years Putin usually appeared at official functions including foreign visits alone, even if the presence of the first lady was expected.
Loyal Russian reporters accompanying Putin on his trips abroad preferred not to raise the issue.
"Now it is clear why the president's spouse has not recently played the role of the first lady. Everyone would have discussed the coldness with which they treat each other, and this would have hurt the image of the newly-elected leader of the nation," wrote liberal news website Slon.ru
For ordinary Russians, the announcement late Thursday just confirmed what they had known for a long time.
"This marriage has long existed only on paper, that I am 200 percent sure," said financial analyst Anastasia Yelisyonkova.
"When a head of state appears at official functions alone it does mean something."
Many analysts in Russia had doubted that the announcement of Putin's divorce could ever be made in Russia.
What prompted Thursday's disclosure, which came after unprecedented anti-Putin protests over the last 18 months and increased scrutiny of the Kremlin on the Internet, remains unclear.
Kryshtanovskaya said that what Russians would want to know now, is whether the 60-year-old leader remarries or remains single.
If he ties the knot with a young woman it may not go down well with many conservative voters, while if Putin remains single he may even boost his sagging approval ratings.
"Many people will think: 'He is just like us. His private life did not turn out well. He is human," said Kryshtanovskaya, until recently a member of the ruling United Russia party.
"Of course, I have seen that this man is unhappy in his marriage. He's got sad eyes."