Putin: Moscow Girls Make Me Sing And Shout

In this Nov. 4, 2004 file photo, President Vladimir Putin, left, speaks with gymnast Alina Kabayeva as he hosts Russia's Olympic athletes at a Kremlin banquet in Moscow. Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday denied a tabloid report that he had divorced his wife and intended to marry the champion gymnast less than half his age.
AP Photo/ITAR-TASS
Russian President Vladimir Putin turned a reporter's question about his marriage into a discourse on female beauty, saying Friday that "I like all Russian women."

Playing up his image as a ladies man, Putin praised his countrywomen in response to a reporter's question about a recent tabloid report that claimed he intends to marry a former Olympic gymnast less than half his age.

"There is not a single word of truth" to the report, Putin said at a news conference in Sardinia with incoming Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi.

"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."

Russian women are "the most talented and beautiful" in the world, he said. "If anyone can compete, it may be only Italian women," Putin added, in a nod to his Italian hosts.

The Moscow tabloid, Moskovsky Korrespondent, reported this month that Putin, 55, had divorced his wife, Lyudmila, two months ago and intended to marry Alina Kabayeva, 24, a former champion rhythmic gymnast who is now a Russian lawmaker.

Putin, who is known for his tough-guy image, 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.

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.

The tabloid report, which was published April 12, has been largely ignored in the Russian press. But it's received wide play in many European newspapers.