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Russia’s war in Ukraine is shedding new light on Putin’s personal life. Here’s what we know

Vladimir Putin didn’t just like the prying.

It was 2008, and the Russian president, then 56 and eight years into his tightening grip on energy, stood for a information convention in Sardinia’s lavish Villa Certosa. At his aspect was his closest ally in Western Europe, Silvio Berlusconi, the media mogul and Italian prime minister of legendarily hedonist appetites with whom he shared a style for raunchy jokes, over-the-top furnishings and huge wealth.

During the summers, Putin’s two teenage daughters had the run of the sprawling villa, happening secret luxurious procuring and boating excursions underneath strict orders that their identities stay hid and their faces hidden from cameras, based on an individual with data of the association.

That technique of strictly shielding his household labored nicely for Putin over time, till Russia invaded Ukraine in February. Now, as nations impose sanctions on these closest to him — together with these authorised Friday by Britain on the girl lengthy thought of to be his mistress, Alina Kabaeva, and his former spouse, Lyudmila Ocheretnaya — the facade is starting to crumble, shedding new mild on the Russian chief’s non-public life.

Some of the primary glimmers of his difficult household affairs unfolded in that scene on the villa, as a Russian reporter, Nataliya Melikova of Nezavisimaya Gazeta, gingerly broached the forbidden zone. Days earlier than, a report in Moskovsky Korrespondent claimed that Putin and his spouse of 25 years had secretly cut up. Enticingly, the newspaper additional reported that he had fallen for Kabaeva, an Olympic gold medalist in rhythmic gymnastics, who, at 24, was concerning the age of his daughters and had turn out to be a public face of his political occasion.

“I have always reacted negatively to those who, with their snotty noses and erotic fantasies, meddle in other people’s lives,” Putin stated, denying the report. Berlusconi mimed taking pictures Melikova with an imaginary machine gun as Putin, who by then had been accused of murdering a number of journalists, nodded and smiled. Days later, Moskovsky Korrespondent halted operations for “financial reasons.”

Putin is greater than only a protecting father who, as he has stated, wished to provide his daughters a traditional life and regarded their security a matter of nationwide safety. A former KGB operative steeped within the company’s methods of subterfuge, disinformation and the Janus-like capability to current totally different selves relying on the state of affairs, he has shrouded his private life in secrecy and wrapped it in hearsay.

He has two formally recognised daughters from his first marriage, however based on unbiased Russian information retailers and unverified worldwide information studies, he could have 4 extra youngsters with two different ladies. Yet even his acknowledged daughters, now approaching center age, are so hidden as to be unrecognisable on a Moscow avenue.

File photograph of Russian President Vladimir Putin and Alina Kabaeva

In the villa-dotted Russian enclaves of Switzerland, a petition started circulating in March demanding the repatriation of his supposed paramour, Kabaeva, angrily evaluating her with Hitler’s mistress, Eva Braun. In Lugano, locals whisper concerning the inexperienced glass constructing that Kabaeva lived in overlooking the lake and communicate with confidence concerning the hospital the place her rumoured youngsters have been born. But they haven’t seen her.

The supposed youngsters are unverified and invisible. In many instances, they’re apparitions, and as in lots of ghost tales, the phantoms can appear conjured for a desired impact, both by critics to undercut Putin’s self-made picture as a protector of household values or by supporters to compound the picture of Putin’s wealth, virility and mysteriousness. Or possibly they’re merely actual.

“There’s so many stories. All of them can be true or none of them can be true. And that’s sort of the fog of Putin,” stated Nina Khrushcheva, a Moscow-born professor of worldwide affairs on the New School in New York.

Some issues do appear clear sufficient, although. Members of Putin’s household circle are beneficiaries of a kleptocratic system that Putin guidelines over like a mafia don. For many years, few succeeded in penetrating the opaque protecting bubble constructed round them and their assets, however Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has modified that.

Shaken at first, many Russians now rally behind Putin’s invasion Demonstrators collect round an effigy of the Russian President Vladimir Putin with the letter Z, which has turn out to be a logo of the Russian army, throughout an anti-war motion in Tbilisi, Georgia. (File/AP)

In April, the United States aimed into the fog and imposed sanctions on his two daughters, citing them as relations of a penalized individual — Putin — and asserting their help for the Russian protection trade and reception of billions of {dollars} of funds instantly overseen by Putin. The US authorities additionally almost positioned sanctions on Kabaeva, however pulled again on the final second to keep away from, for now, an escalation, officers stated.

Sanctions specialists say these measures have been much less meant to do Putin concrete monetary hurt than to ship him a message that his aggression had crossed a line, and that his invisible and untouchable non-public world could possibly be seen and reached by the West.

The Dutch department

On a grassy plot of land on the outskirts of Amsterdam, protesters not too long ago despatched a message to Putin via his daughter Maria. Near Ukrainian flags planted in the course of a coronary heart made from candles, an indication addressed to “Ave Maria Putin” learn: “It seems your old man is hard to reach and clearly impossible to stop even by his hangmen. But as we all know, fathers and daughters are a different story,” and, “We beg you, Maria.”

What at first appeared an unlikely place for an attraction — and an unlikely individual to attraction to — made extra sense when one understood that the land had not too long ago been purchased by Jorrit Faassen, a Dutch man who was as soon as married to and has no less than one little one with Maria Vladimirovna Vorontsova, as Putin’s eldest daughter is thought. In the 15 years since Vorontsova secretly started residing with Faassen within the Netherlands, she had at occasions turn out to be the main focus of native ire in opposition to her authoritarian father.

A Ukrainian flag on land that belongs to Jorrit Faassen, the previous husband of Maria Vladimirovna Vorontsova, as Vladimir Putin’s oldest daughter is thought, close to Amsterdam, April 1, 2022. (Dmitry Kostyukov/The New York Times)

All of that anger and anxiousness was far faraway from the revelry at a celebration celebrating the couple in 2008 in Wassenaar, maybe probably the most unique and rich space in all of the Netherlands. “It was a wedding party,” recalled Danny Plezier, an area singer of Dutch people songs who carried out on the affair.

He stated the visitors sang alongside along with his hits, and he shook arms with the groom, whom he had identified for years, and his new bride. Plezier stated he had no thought she was Putin’s daughter and left after his set.

The groom’s cousin CAIsper Faassen, now a distinguished Dutch artist, stated that the subsequent time he noticed his cousin’s spouse, Maria, was at his aunt’s celebration within the close by city of Merenwijk. He stated Maria appeared composed however aside. She communicated with everybody, together with her husband, in good English and spoke little Dutch.

Neither Casper Faassen nor many others within the household knew the true identification of the girl who went as Maria Vladimirovna Vorontsova, and now Maria Faassen, however Masha to her father. But in 2010, a Russian information outlet, New Times, reported that Jorrit Faassen, then an official at a Russian consultancy agency, obtained a beating from the bodyguards of Matvey Urin, a high Russian banker who didn’t know who he was coping with, after a street rage episode in Moscow.

A constructing of the Voorlinden non-public artwork museum in Wassenaar, Netherlands, the place, in 2008, a marriage occasion came about for Maria Vladimirovna Vorontsova, as Vladimir Putin’s oldest daughter is thought, and Jorrit Faassen, her former husband, April 1, 2022. (Dmitry Kostyukov/The New York Times)

Urin promptly misplaced licenses to function banks and the bodyguards ended up in jail. Russian gossip reporters speculated that the Dutchman was Putin’s son-in-law, though Jorrit Faassen all the time denied it.

The couple spent a lot of their time in Moscow, the place paperwork listed him as an official at Gazprombank. Casper Faassen stated his cousin as soon as supplied him the potential of profitable connections and gross sales in Russia. But by then, the rumours of Maria’s parentage had begun to flow into and the artist, who reviled Putin for his undercutting of democracy and violent crackdowns, demurred.


But native residents paid extra consideration to them. On a latest afternoon across the luxurious high-rise the place Jorrit Faassen purchased the highest two flooring, one Ukrainian neighbour expressed disgust on the former inhabitants whereas Corien Zoetemelk, 57, who lives throughout the road from the penthouse condominium, recalled seeing the couple at numerous occasions, together with gliding alongside the canal beneath their residence constructing.

“I saw them on their sloop,” she stated. “She was pregnant.”

Sergei Roldugin, a cellist and an in depth — and fabulously enriched — buddy of Putin, now on the United States’ and European Union’s sanctions lists, and Vorontsov’s godfather, as soon as instructed an interviewer that she had a son in 2012. In a 2017 interview with Oliver Stone, Putin acknowledged that he had turn out to be a grandfather.

By 2014, Vorontsov had turn out to be a specialist in pediatric dwarfism. Her charity mission, Elfa-Endo, which helps youngsters with endocrine issues, additionally obtained funding from the highly effective — and now underneath sanction — Alfa Bank. That could possibly be the rationale the US Treasury determined to punish her for main “state-funded programs that have received billions of dollars from the Kremlin toward genetics research and are personally overseen by Mr. Putin.”

Newspapers block the home windows of the house of the daddy of Jorrit Faassen, the previous husband of Maria Vladimirovna Vorontsova, as Vladimir PutinÕs oldest daughter is thought, in Merenwyk, Netherlands, March 31, 2022. (Dmitry Kostyukov/The New York Times)

Those sanctions might damage her new household. According to a report revealed in April by the unbiased Russian information outlet Meduza and the Russian-language web site Current Time TV, she had by then divorced Jorrit Faassen and remarried a Russian man who received a job on the fuel firm Novatek. A strong oligarch, Gennady Timchenko, who typically pops up as Putin’s household fixer, and who can be on sanctions lists, not too long ago sat on Novatek’s board.

The ‘disciplined’ daughter

From the start, Putin’s private story appeared full of the stuff of myth-making. He used an official biography — revealed in 2001 — to burnish his picture as a tricky however heroic household man. In it, he tells the story of personally saving the household, whereas bare, when a defective sauna burned down the household dacha.

“The girls suffered the most from the incident,” Putin stated of his two daughters.

Now, the conflagration of Putin’s struggle in Ukraine has threatened to strip them of every little thing once more.

That goes, too, for his second daughter, Katya, who, as Putin tells it, “turned out to be the most disciplined.”

Indeed, Katya, who lived underneath the alias Katerina Vladimirovna Tikhonova, appears to be the one who has adhered extra to Putin’s circle of affect. In February 2013, she reportedly married Kirill Shamalov, the son of Nikolai Shamalov, an in depth affiliate of Putin’s and main shareholder of the Bank Rossiya. One of Putin’s most popular ski resorts, Igora, supplied an idyllic winter setting.

Tikhonova was herself a seasoned performer who had turn out to be keen about acrobatic rock ’n’ roll dancing. In 2013, she and her dance associate, Ivan Klimov, carried out on the Boogie-Woogie World Masters of acrobatic rock.

“Everyone knew she was Putin’s daughter,” stated Edilio Pagano, who typically judged the occasions that Tikhonova competed in however stated he by no means felt stress to provide her greater scores.

Around 2014, Pagano labored along with her on the chief committee of the World Rock ’n’ Roll Confederation, primarily based in Switzerland, the place she was the vice chairman for enlargement and advertising. She not often attended conferences, he stated, however when she did, she was all the time accompanied by two bodyguards.

By then, she was busy with larger enterprise. In 2015, the Russian information company RBC reported that she had gone to Switzerland not for a dance competitors, however to attend the “Russian session” of the Davos Forum with Shamalov.

Putin let slip in a 2011 Russian tv interview that Tikhonova majored in Oriental research at St. Petersburg University. But as she stepped gingerly into view in 2015, it was because the creator of a math textbook and a half-dozen scientific papers.

Yet she was greater than an educational. Tikhonova headed a analysis institute, Innopraktika, to sponsor and help younger scientists, that was partly financed by the state oil firm Rosneft. The board of Innopraktika, Reuters discovered, had a bunch of Putin confidants and former KGB officers. By 2014, she helped oversee the $1.7 billion enlargement of Moscow State University.

As she grew professionally, so did her husband’s wealth. Kirill Shamalov acquired from Timchenko a roughly $3 billion stake in Russia’s main oil and petrochemical firm and have become one in all its high shareholders. The couple additionally acquired from Timchenko a seaside villa in Biarritz, France.

In 2018, Tikhonova appeared on a Russian tv present, which recognized her because the “director of Innopraktika and deputy director of the Institute of Mathematical Study of Complex Systems at Moscow State University.” (The US Treasury Department positioned sanctions on her for being “a tech executive whose work” helps the Russian authorities “and defense industry.”)

That 12 months, Bloomberg reported that the couple divorced and shared almost $2 billion in belongings. The US positioned sanctions on Shamalov, figuring out him because the “former husband” of Tikhonova.

The different ladies in Putin’s life

Putin’s struggle has additionally compelled different youngsters linked to him to tug again from their most popular public actions.

Elizaveta Vladimirovna Krivonogikh, whose patronymic means she is the daughter of a Vladimir, is a 19-year-old often called Luiza who performed up her potential connection to Putin to realize tens of 1000’s of followers on her Instagram account. But the struggle introduced indignant consideration and her account out of the blue disappeared.

A view of Monaco, the place Svetlana Krivonogikh, who’s believed to have had a relationship with President Vladimir Putin, lived along with her daughter Elizaveta Vladimirovna Krivonogikh, April 12, 2022. (Dmitry Kostyukov/The New York Times)

Luiza Krivonogikh is the daughter of Svetlana Krivonogikh, 47, a former cleansing girl in St. Petersburg, who, via an alleged relationship with Putin, become an actual property baroness, a board member of Putin’s private Bank Rossiya and a significant stakeholder within the Igora ski resort the place Putin’s second daughter was married.

In 2021, the discharge of the Pandora Papers — hundreds of thousands of leaked paperwork from offshore monetary corporations — and an earlier investigation by Proekt, which was subsequently banned in Russia, confirmed that Svetlana Krivonogikh’s value was estimated to be round 100 million euros, or about $105 million.

Maria Pevchikh, the top of investigations on the Anti-Corruption Foundation, a Russian nonprofit organisation based by Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny, was sure that Putin had fathered youngsters along with his mistresses and that they’d lived in luxurious overseas.

She pointed to paper trails that indicated extravagant wealth for the ladies and their households and to property data displaying {that a} Gazprom subsidiary gave luxurious residences in the identical Moscow constructing to the moms of Kabaeva and Luiza Krivonogikh.

The residence constructing the place Svetlana Krivonogikh, who’s believed to have had a relationship with President Vladimir Putin, and her daughter could have lived in Monte Carlo, Monaco, April 12, 2022. (Dmitry Kostyukov/The New York Times)

On a latest afternoon, as Russians climbed into unique sports activities vehicles in entrance of Monte Carlo’s landmark on line casino, residents of the residence constructing there stated they’d by no means seen both Svetlana Krivonogikh or her daughter. The doorman stated she didn’t stay there.

On April 22, Putin’s supposedly present mistress — and by some accounts, his new spouse, Kabaeva — appeared in Moscow at her annual Alina Festival, a patriotic gymnastics occasion. An advisory member of the National Media Group, managed by the highly effective oligarch Yuri Kovalchuk, she rallied help for the invasion of Ukraine in entrance of the “Z” indicators which are symbols of Putin’s struggle.

The Swiss and worldwide information media have typically reported as a provided that Kabaeva, who was residing in Switzerland, had Putin’s little one on the Sant’Anna clinic close to Lugano in 2015, when he disappeared for eight days.

A luxurious constructing with inexperienced glass in Lugano, Switzerland, the place Alina Kabaeva, a former Olympic gymnast and the girl lengthy thought of to be President Vladimir Putin’s present mistress, is believed to have lived, April 11, 2022. (Dmitry Kostyukov/The New York Times)

The Lugano clinic declined to remark. A 2019 report in a Russian newspaper saying that Kabaeva had given beginning to twins vanished from the online.

Around Lugano, residents are sure that she had as soon as lived underneath heavy guard within the glass luxurious constructing overlooking the lake in Lugano’s Paradiso neighbourhood.

But the doorman on the constructing stated he had labored there for 10 years and had by no means seen anybody by that identify. And the couple’s reported youngsters have by no means publicly materialised.

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