Who is Alina Kabaeva, Vladimir Putin’s girlfriend? : NPR


Russian President Vladimir Putin presents Alina Kabaeva with flowers after awarding her the Order of Friendship at a ceremony in the Kremlin in June 2001.

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Russian President Vladimir Putin presents Alina Kabaeva with flowers after awarding her the Order of Friendship at a ceremony in the Kremlin in June 2001.

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The US has imposed sanctions on the former Olympic gymnast, who has long been rumored to be Russian President Vladimir Putin’s love partner, adding the person known as ‘Russia’s most flexible woman’ to the list growing number of people who risk financial sanctions in response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Alina Kabaeva, 39, has been romantically linked to Putin, 69, for more than a decade and reportedly had at least three children with him. In announcing sanctions against her on Tuesday, the Treasury Department said “Kabaeva has a close relationship with Putin” and that she was being targeted as part of an effort to “impose high costs on those who support the President Vladimir Putin’s War”.


Alina Kabaeva performed in September 2003 at the Rhythmic Gymnastics World Championships.

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Alina Kabaeva performed in September 2003 at the Rhythmic Gymnastics World Championships.

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“While innocent people suffer from Russia’s unlawful war of aggression, Putin’s allies have enriched themselves and funded opulent lifestyles,” Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said in a statement. A declaration. “The Treasury Department will use every tool at its disposal to ensure that Russian elites and Kremlin enablers are held accountable for their complicity in a war that has cost countless lives.”

While the Kremlin has long denied any relationship between Kabaeva and Putin, rumors of their partnership date back more than a decade. Here’s what we know about them.

She was a gymnastics star, but was once banned for doping

Kabaeva is one of the most decorated rhythmic gymnasts in Russian history. She started the sport at the age of 4 and eventually won 21 European Championship medals, 14 World Championship medals and two Olympic medals, including a gold at the 2004 Games in Athens. Her signature move, known as “Kabaeva”, helped her earn the nickname “Russia’s most flexible woman”.

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His career was not without controversy, however. In 2001, she tested positive at the Goodwill Games in Australia for the banned substance furosemide – a diuretic sometimes used by athletes to lose weight or to mask the use of other drugs. She denied doping and said the substance came from a tainted pill she bought from a local pharmacy. Nevertheless, she was briefly banned from competition and forced to return her medals from the 2001 World Championship in Madrid.

She entered politics, then the media

Kabaeva retired from professional gymnastics around 2007 and decided to go into politics. She was selected for a seat in the lower house of parliament, where she served as a member of Putin’s United Russia party. In parliament, she was one of the main advocates for a law that deprived many Russian orphans of the possibility of being adopted abroad.

In 2014, she quit politics to become president of Russia’s New Media Group, which the United States describes as “a pro-Kremlin empire of television, radio and print organizations.” For months, Kremlin critics have accused the organization of portraying Western commentary on the Ukraine invasion as a disinformation campaign. She was appointed to the position despite having limited experience in the industry beyond hosting a television talk show.

Putin and Kabaeva do not discuss the relationship

Kabaeva denied a relationship with Putin, and Putin likewise never acknowledged such a partnership. In 2008, the famous private Russian president was asked about Kabaeva at a press conference in Italy with Silvio Berlusconi, then elected prime minister of the country.

“I am of course aware of the cliché that politicians live in glass houses, but even then there must be limits,” Putin said while dismissing the rumours. “I’ve always hated people who walk around with their erotic fantasies, sticking their snot noses into another person’s life,” he continued.

Berlusconi, standing next to Putin, then mime shooting the reporter who popped the question with an imaginary machine gun.


Silvio Berlusconi pretends to shoot a journalist during a press conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin in April 2008. The journalist had asked Putin about rumors of his relationship with Alina Kabaeva.

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Silvio Berlusconi pretends to shoot a journalist during a press conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin in April 2008. The journalist had asked Putin about rumors of his relationship with Alina Kabaeva.

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The question came a few days later Respondent Moskovsky Korrespondant, a Russian tabloid owned by a former Soviet intelligence officer, reported that Putin planned to marry Kabaeva. The newspaper was soon suspended “for financial reasons” and never resumed its activities.

Sanctions might not have much effect

Kabaeva is just the latest individual in Putin’s orbit to face sanctions in retaliation for the war in Ukraine. Since the launch of the Russian invasion in February, the United States has announced sanctions against a wide range of Russian banks and companies, Putin associates and even two of his adult daughters.

But at this stage of the war, it’s unclear how far sanctions against an individual will go to deter Putin, says Rachel Ziemba, deputy senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security. Ziemba says there is no evidence to suggest Kabaeva even has financial assets in the United States, and following similar sanctions against her by the United Kingdom and the European Union, she has likely “prepared for the risk” of sanction by the United States.

“The idea is that by targeting people close to Putin himself, it will make his life and the lives of those close to him more difficult, which could cause them to change their policy,” Ziemba said. “The ship probably sailed on that one.”

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