Sanctions against Russia reveal Putin's secret privacy

Western sanctions aimed not only at the Russian president’s inner circle but also at his family, have shed unusual light on the personal life of Vladimir Putin, who usually remains strictly hidden from the public.

The United States and the European Union have announced the first sanctions against the two daughters of the head of state from his marriage to Lyudmila Putina. At the same time, there is growing pressure for similar measures against Alina Kabayeva, a former gymnast whom some media and opposition say is Putin’s mistress – allegations that have never been confirmed by the Kremlin.

Putin is no less discreet about his personal life. The state media often shows him working or traveling alone, too busy to serve the country to indulge in personal entertainment. The only violation of this omerta was his public appearance with Lyudmila in the intermission of ballet performance in Moscow in 2013. The two separated a year later.

Russian media have mentioned Putin’s two daughters from this marriage, Maria Vorontsova and Katerina Tikhonova, but the president himself has never spoken about them. “My children are fine. They live in Moscow… In their personal lives and professional careers, everything is fine. I am proud of them,” Putin said in one of his rare public comments in 2012.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov declined to comment on the new sanctions against Maria and Katerina, adding that the decision “speaks for itself”.

However, their mother Ludmila’s long absence from public life and her sour appearance during her appearances sparked much speculation about the Kremlin master’s personal life long before their divorce.

In 2008, a small tabloid, the Moscow Correspondent, wrote that Putin wanted to marry Alina Kabayeva. The angry president warned journalists not to stick their “snotty noses” in his personal life. The newspaper, owned by businessman Alexander Lebedev, whose son Evgeni has become a prominent media figure in Britain, published a detailed apology before finally ceasing to publish.

However, this connection between Putin and the gymnast attracted public attention and was the subject of an investigation by dissident Alexei Navalny, published just before his arrest in January 2021.

“Inner Circle”

The opposition claims that Kabayeva owns a network of luxury properties in Russia and holds a well-paid position on the board of the state-run National Media Group, proposed to her by oligarch Yuri Kovalchuk, who is close to Putin and now also affected by Western sanctions. “There is no doubt that Alina Maratovna Kabayeva dances better than anyone else with a ball or a ribbon, but she has no qualifications to run media companies and newspapers and would not be there if it were not for her relationship with Putin,” Navalny said.

According to information on social networks, she is now in Switzerland, and a petition, which collected 75,000 signatures, insists that sanctions be imposed on her as well. “Why, given the scale of the sanctions against Russia, do you continue to pity his family after Putin destroyed the lives of millions of people?” The petition said.

According to Swiss TV RT, which quoted an official communiqué, the federal government has investigated the issue but found “no indication that this person (Kabayeva) is in Switzerland”.

Georgy Alburov, a contributor to Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Fund, said it was unthinkable for her to avoid sanctions. “She is part of Putin’s inner circle, she is a member of his family who is taking advantage of this situation,” the researcher said, adding that her role in Russia’s official media made her “a great Russian propagandist.”

Opposition groups also say Putin’s informal relationship with Kabayeva is not the only one. In November 2020, the investigative website “Project” announced that some Svetlana Krivonogih had been given shares in the bank “Russia” by the same Yuri Kovalchuk.

In 2003, Kabayeva gave birth to a daughter named Vladimirovna. The Kremlin declined to comment on another article devoid of “serious elements.”

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