Russian President Putin’s secret affair with gymnast, said to have become Russia’s secret First Lady
Nirapad News : Alina Kabayeva, a former Olympic gold medal-winning rhythmic gymnast, is widely believed to be the lover of Russian President Vladimir Putin and, according to several sources, the mother of at least one of his children.
Although she is rarely seen in public — and never on Putin’s arm — the 31-year-old is seen by many Russians as their country’s undeclared First Lady.
But, like so many things in Putin’s private life, Alina Kabayeva has been kept hidden in the shadows.
Last week, a TV documentary which aired in Germany made a series of eye-catching allegations against the bellicose leader. According to the programme, Putin The Man, documents from the archives of Germany’s spy agency BND claim that during the early years of his marriage to his former wife Lyudmila, Putin was a ‘wife-beater and a philanderer’. The information was obtained by a female agent posing as the then Mrs Putin’s interpreter.
The programme also alleged that the Russian leader is terrified of getting old.
‘Putin is afraid of physical decay, he is afraid of ageing,’ biographer Ben Judah told the programme-makers.
In an effort to stay young, Putin — who has in the past been photographed with tigers and polar bears as well as horse riding bare-chested in Siberia — is said to take hot and cold baths followed by gym sessions to hone his athletic figure.
According to one Western intelligence report, cited by the programme from German television company ZDF, he even had a facelift in 2010 to iron out the creases in his forehead and the bags beneath his eyes, in readiness for his return as president in 2012 after a brief stint as prime minister.
His face, rarely expressive at any time, is now a frozen mask of smoothness, prompting further speculation that he has become a fan of Botox, the anti-wrinkle jab.
Keeping up with a lover half his age might, of course, be behind such drastic behaviour, not to mention his sudden divorce from Lyudmila after three decades of marriage and two daughters together.
Their separation was announced at the Kremlin in June 2013, minutes after Putin and his wife had watched a Russian state ballet performance of La Esmeralda.
But however blasé the Russian leader and his wife tried to be about the end of their union, evidence has gathered that beneath their seemingly amicable separation is a far more colourful story.
For the past year, speculation has been rife that the couple’s sudden divorce declaration was merely a prelude to some other big revelation yet to come about the President and his relationship with Kabayeva. Yet still this enigmatic woman appears to be living under a veil of secrecy.
Born in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, in 1983, the same year that Putin and former Aeroflot stewardess Lyudmila married, Kabayeva has been the talk of Moscow’s political and journalistic salons for the past seven years for her alleged affair with the president.
Photographs of the glamorous, highly decorated sportswoman and Putin at official functions show the usually stony-faced president gawping at her like a besotted schoolboy.
Kabayeva has also enjoyed a meteoric rise in fortune under the president’s watchful eye. After retiring from gymnastics in 2005, she became an MP in his United Russia Party.
Last September she stood down and — despite her youth and relative lack of experience — was made chairman of a major pro-Kremlin media group.
There have been rumours that Kabayeva has had at least one child with Putin, although she denied being a mother in January 2011 in a cover-story interview with Russian Vogue, claiming that the little boy living with her was her nephew.
Recently there have been more suggestions of Kabayeva’s place in the president’s heart.
At last year’s Winter Olympics in the Black Sea resort of Sochi, she carried the Olympic flame aloft while an approving Putin looked on, even though at the peak of her career she was banned for a drugs transgression.
Several months before that, Russian state television broadcast a flattering documentary to mark the vivacious Kabayeva’s 30th birthday. While no questioner dared to mention Putin by name, she spoke coquettishly of a man whom ‘I love very much’.
Pressed for his identity, she giggled and twiddled her hair before answering: ‘You’ve managed to ask that question. Well done.’
And in December last year, at around the time Kabayeva was spotted purchasing her late-night coffee under armed guard, Putin tantalisingly revealed in an interview that he was in a relationship in which he ‘loves’ and ‘is loved’.
But still there has been no admission that the object of his affections is Kabayeva.
Other potential pieces of evidence for her pregnancy are flight records from 2009 which show that Kabayeva flew with two of Putin’s most trusted friends from Prague to Sochi. One was Dmitry Gorelov, a former Red Army doctor, who was granted the title of ‘honoured healthcare practitioner of the Russian Federation’ by Putin in a 2000 presidential decree.
Kabayeva gave birth to a son by Putin, named Dmitry, in 2009, according to reports in the New York Post. A daughter is said to have been born in 2012.
Then came the Putins’ divorce announcement — which raised further questions about why, having refused to discuss his private life for so long, the President was suddenly, if briefly, being so open.
Since the Putins’ divorce, almost nothing has been seen or heard of Lyudmila.
But if the President hoped to end speculation about his private life by announcing his divorce, he must be disappointed that the rumour mill is turning faster than ever.
In Russian media circles there is permanent speculation about when — and if — Putin will introduce Kabayeva to the world as his wife.
For a time it was believed that this would happen at the Winter Olympics last year and that Kabayeva, who was wearing a wedding ring, would appear not only as one of Russia’s most famous athletes but as the love of their leader’s life.
But the long-awaited announcement never came.
Instead, Putin’s entourage continue to promote his ‘monk-like’ image as a bachelor devoted to his country.
‘There is no place for family affairs in his life,’ says his spokesman Dmitry Peskov. ‘It’s only about the duties and responsibility that he has as head of the state.’
Others suspect that, as relations with the West become more strained, Putin does not want his ‘hard man’ reputation to be softened by talk of love.
Whatever the truth, it seems he will continue to keep a tight lid on affairs of the heart, hiding his emotions behind that ultra-smooth face.