The EU is planning to impose sanctions on Vladimir Putin’s alleged gymnast lover Alina Kabaeva for her role in Kremlin propaganda, according to a document.
Kabaeva is a late addition to the list of individuals targeted in a sixth package of measures against Russia in response to the war in Ukraine, after she last month likened the Soviet victory over Nazism in the Second World War to Putin’s invasion.
The proposal identifies Kabaeva as the chairwoman of the board of directors of the National Media Group, a holding company that owns significant shares in almost all major Russian state media that make up Putin’s propaganda machine.
The former gymnast and former Duma lawmaker is ‘closely associated with President Vladimir Putin,’ the document adds.
The Russian leader, who will be 70 this year, has since 2008 denied a relationship with Olympic gold-medal winning Kabaeva, now 38. The Moscow newspaper that first reported on their relationship closed down soon after.
The EU is planning to impose sanctions on Vladimir Putin’s gymnast ‘lover’ Alina Kabaeva for her role in Kremlin propaganda, according to a document. Pictured: Alina Kabaeva and Vladimir Putin are shown together at an event at the Kremlin (file photo)
Another notable figure on the list is the head of the Russian Orthodox Church – Patriarch Kirill – who has given his blessing to Putin’s on-going invasion, despite Eastern Orthodoxy being the predominant religion in Ukraine.
If passed, Kabaeva and Kirill would join a growing list of 1,000 influential Russian and pro-Russian figures that have already been sanctioned by the EU. They will face travel bans and asset freezes under the measures.
The EU sanctions, which also include a ban on Russian oil imports, were submitted on Wednesday by the EU executive to member states for approval, which requires unanimity among the 27 countries.
Hungary, Slovakia and other eastern European countries are so far refusing the package, holding out for an opt out or delay to the oil ban.
Russian Alina Kabaeva takes part in the Sydney Olympic Games in 2000
According to a report in The Wall Street Journal, citing US officials, Kabaeva and her family have gained personal fortune thanks to her connection to Putin’s inner circle.
The report cites classified US intelligence that names Kabaeva as a beneficiary of Putin’s wealth. US officials have held off sanctioning Kabaeva themselves out of concern that Putin might view it as a personal attack, The Guardian reported.
Three other people, columnists at the state agency Ria Novosti, are also on the list for their role in disseminating ‘government propaganda’ over the war in Ukraine.
The four names are in addition to 58 people – including Patriarch Kirill, numerous military personnel suspected of war crimes in the Ukrainian town of Bucha and family members of Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov.
The document describes Kirill as ‘one of the most prominent supporters of the Russian military aggression against Ukraine’. His support for the war has led to a public rebuke from the Pope.
Another figure that is expected to be added to the list is Marina Mordashova – the wife of Alexei Mordashov, officially Russia’s richest man (although Putin is believed to be far wealthier). The EU says this is because Ms Mordashova benefits from her husbands assets.
Since the annexation of Crimea in 2014, European sanctions have already affected 1,091 people and 80 entities.
Kabaeva is a late addition to the list of individuals targeted in a sixth package of measures against Russia in response to the war in Ukraine, after she last month likened the Soviet victory over Nazism in WWII to Putin’s invasion, during a rare public appearance (pictured)
Another notable figure on the list is the head of the Russian Orthodox Church – Patriarch Kirill – who has given his blessing to Putin’s on-going invasion, despite Eastern Orthodoxy being the predominant religion in Ukraine
News of the EU sanctions comes days after a report claimed that Putin had two secret sons with Kabaeva.
The first boy was born in secrecy in Switzerland amid huge security in 2015, according to a source linked to the obstetrician who was at the birth.
The second son was delivered in Moscow in 2019 with the same specialist flying to Russia for the birth, according to an investigation by Swiss broadsheet newspaper Sonntagszeitung.
Putin has hidden his alleged secret family from voters – and was not present at either of the births, the report said.
The report confirms strong rumours over a Putin-Kabaeva family, except in suggesting there was one son born in 2019 rather than twins.
It also indicates that Kabaeva is the secret Russian first lady at a time when the country is suffering major losses from the war with Ukraine.
Alina Kabaeva shakes hands with Vladimir Putin during a meeting with other gymnasts in the Kremlin. Putin has, since 2008, denied having a relationship with the gold medal winner
Putin awards Kabaeva with the ‘For Merit to the Fatherland’ order in 2005 in Kremlin, Moscow
The source of the new report – published on Sunday – is said to be a personal friend of Kabaeva who also knows the obstetrician, an unnamed Soviet-born medic acquainted with Putin for more than three decades and a long-time Swiss citizen after emigrating from Russia.
The paper reported: ‘Our source says clearly: ‘Alina’s relationship with Putin existed. Their children – two sons – are Putin’s children. Alina had no other relationship. That would have been too dangerous for her’.’
The female doctor works at Clinica Sant’Anna in the Italian-speaking Ticino region of Switzerland where the first child was born.
The obstetrician had ‘maintained a trusting relationship with Putin’, said the report.
‘You had to keep the whole thing very discreet,’ the newspaper was told.
Contrary to gossip in 2015, Putin was not present at the birth which – at the time – the Kremlin denied. There was also only one Putin-Kabaeva child born in Switzerland, said the source. By the ‘president’s decision’, the second son was born in Moscow.
The same Russian émigré Swiss obstetrician delivered the second son in Moscow in 2019. Before the birth, Kabaeva had travelled in secret to Lugano several times.
The source described Kabaeva as ‘a very pleasant woman.
‘She is a real sportswoman, very straight, without posturing. She came with her mother and sister, but without bodyguards. Despite this, a blanket of secrecy was thrown over the births.’
Putin hands Kabaeva a bouquet of flowers on the day she received the ‘For Merit to the Fatherland’ order in 2005
Kabaeva had also travelled multiple times to Switzerland before starting her relationship with Putin, believed to be in 2007.
She was an ambassador for Longines watches from 1999 to 2008.
Their relationship was first reported when a Moscow newspaper alleged Putin had secretly divorced his wife of 30 years Lyudmila and was planning to marry Kabaeva.
The Kremlin denied the claims, and the newspaper was soon shut down. Five years later, Putin and his wife announced their separation.
Recently, rumours suggested that Kabaeva and her suspected young children were hiding out from the war at a reclusive Swiss chalet. However last month – after a four-month absence from the limelight – she reappeared in Moscow.
Kabaeva used the build-up to her ‘Alina 2022’ show in Moscow in April to make her first appearance in public since the war started in Ukraine. This followed rumours she had been hiding in Switzerland – or in a hi-tech Siberian nuclear bunker.
At the show itself she was filmed in front of the ‘Z’ symbols of Putin’s troops, which critics have likened to a swastika symbol.
Wearing a patriotic St George’s ribbon on her chest, Kabaeva delivered a rousing speech seemingly linking victory over Nazism in the Second World War to today’s events in Ukraine.
‘This theme, you see, this story, doesn’t only go into the past. It stays with us,’ she said. ‘This celebration is not just for the whole country, this is a holiday for every family.
‘Every family has a war story, and we mustn’t ever forget it, but pass it on from generation to generation.’
She wore a £1,915 from a British-based designer as she led a patriotic-themed gymnastics ballet in which she linked the defeat of Hitler’s Nazis to the Russian fight against Ukraine.
The event included some of the Soviet Union’s most patriotic songs in a celebration of the country’s victory over the Germans.
Putin pictured alongside Kabaeva at a gymnastics festival in Russia in 2001
The theme at her annual festival was unmistakably intended to boost patriotic support for Putin’s military operation in Ukraine.
She wore a wedding ring and a fluid silk fuchsia midi dress. Russians were struck by Kabaeva’s new look, sparking rumours of recent cosmetic surgery. Russian Cosmopolitan said ‘something has really changed in Kabaeva’s face’, adding that ‘the legendary athlete was noticeably prettier’.
Avoiding linking her to Putin, it said of a woman widely believed to be Russia’s unofficial first lady: ‘Alina Kabaeva is one of the most mysterious and secretive women in our country.
‘The gymnast almost never appears in public, does not [appear in] social networks, and it is not possible to accidentally see her on the street or in shopping centres.’
Telegram channel Tol’ko Nikomu – also choosing its words carefully to avoid the Russian censor – hinted that she and Putin share the same plastic surgeon.
‘A new rare appearance of Alina Kabaeva. This time she is dressed casually – and is again seen with a wedding ring.
‘And yes, the handwriting of the family beautician is quite notable.’
Alina Kabaeva at the 2015 ‘Alina’ gymnastics festival on May 21, 2015, in Moscow, Russia
Jailed Putin foe Alexei Navalny had previously demanded sanctions against Kabaeva.
He singled out Kabaeva’s National Media Group arguing that it was likely owned by Putin – who will be 70 this year – personally.
Her salary here has been estimated at almost £8 million a year, compared with the average annual figure of £5,600.
Navalny posted from jail: ‘I want to remind you that the National Media Group, which owns the lion’s share of this apparatus of lies, undoubtedly belongs to Putin personally, and as such is even formally headed by Putin’s mistress Alina Kabaeva.’
He called her a Putin propagandist and said she should be treated as a ‘war criminal’.
Kabaeva has kept a low profile in the Ukraine war – but her media has been vocal in cheerleading for Putin.
Soon after the war started, a petition called on the Swiss authorities to send her packing back to Russia.
‘It’s time you reunite Eva Braun with her Führer’, said the petition.
Rumours first linked her romantically to Putin as long ago as 2008 when she was a pro-Kremlin MP.
The newspaper printing the story was rapidly closed down.
Putin – who in 2013 announced his divorce from wife Lyudmila, a former Aeroflot stewardess – has previously said: ‘I have a private life in which I do not permit interference. It must be respected.’
He deplored ‘those who with their snotty noses and erotic fantasies prowl into others’ lives’.
Kabaeva is on record as saying she had met a man who ‘I love very much’, gushing: ‘Sometimes you feel so happy that you even feel scared.’
In 2001 Kabaeva was temporarily banned from competing in rhythmic gymnastics after failing a doping test.
A year earlier she had won gold at the 2000 summer Olympics.
Once regarded as Russia’s most eligible woman, her only other suitor has been a married Georgian policeman, according to media reports. This relationship petered out in 2005 amid complaints of tabloid intrusion into her life.
She once posed almost nude for Maxim and was described as ‘full of sex’ by a photographer. There have been many reports of her wearing a wedding ring, but no records of a marriage.
She is reported to have a fleet of Maybach limousines at her disposal, and was seen surrounded by a squad of machine-gun toting security guards on visits to a Moscow cafe, likely indicating she qualifies for state-level security.
The dictator of neighbouring Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko hinted that Putin’s divorce decision came about because Kabaeva ‘put pressure on the president’.