In Russia, you probably won't be surprised to read, aspects of politicians' lives that fall under the need-to-know heading are few. Vladimir Putin doesn't have to deal with press conferences from once-friendly former porn stars or tabloids publishing photos of his illegitimate child (if he has either). In fact, after a Russian paper printed a story alleging Putin had ditched his wife for a 24-year-old gymnast, it was shut down*.
So, according to Simon Schuster at TIME, speculation about Putin's private life thrives online. And that means rumors travel fast.
Last year, a blogger named Pavel Pritula claimed in a two-sentence post that Putin had sent his wife to live in a monastery in the region of Pskov ... The Russian Orthodox Church denied the claim as "nonsense," and Putin's office declined to comment. But once the rumor began to snowball, it didn't seem to matter to many readers that the blogger's only source was his mother.
TIME visited the monastery, and asked around about the story. Locals there, Schuster writes, were largely unwilling to dismiss the idea.
But the Putin edict of silence is leaking. Reports about various supposed Putin family members are slipping out, and it will be interesting to see how — and if — he can continue to plug the holes.
*At a press conference, Putin was asked about the story. His response is priceless: "I always thought badly of those who go around with their erotic fantasies sticking their snot-ridden noses into another person's life."