Silvio Berlusconi and Vladimir Putin are seen in a combination file photo.  REUTERS/File

The only other divorcee among Russian leaders before President Vladimir Putin was Czar Peter I, or Peter the Great.

Peter’s first bride, Evdokiya Lopukhina, was chosen for him by his mother -- a mistake, at least for her son. Evdokiya, a deeply religious, conservative but strong-willed woman, didn’t like her husband’s modernization drive. With her equally niggly relatives, she so roused Peter’s ire that he secured a divorce and bullied her into a convent.

He took up instead with a beautiful German, Anna Mons, whom he met on a visit to Moscow’s German colony. She remained semi-openly by his side for more than a decade but when -- apparently fearing that he had lost interest -- she flirted with and then fell for the Prussian ambassador, he imprisoned her, along with her mother and sister. Then married someone else.

No record of anything as disgraceful has happened since -- either in tsarist or Soviet times. (Catherine the Great was estranged from her husband, had him arrested and may have ordered his death: But she never divorced him.) The Tsars’ wives varied in the degrees of independence they showed. Some – for example, Alexandra, wife of the last Tsar Nicholas II and murdered with him and their five children by the Bolsheviks in May 1918 – were strongly opinionated, in her case (like Evdokia) harshly conservative and autocratic.