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

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

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

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The United States has sanctioned the former Olympic gymnast who has long been rumored to be the romantic partner of Russian President Vladimir Putin, adding the person known as “Russia’s most flexible woman” to the growing list of people who will face financial penalties in response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

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

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

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

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“While innocent people suffer from Russia’s war of illegal aggression, Putin’s allies have enriched themselves and financed opulent lifestyles,” Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said in a statement. “The Treasury Department will use every tool at our disposal to ensure that elite Russians 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 collaboration go back more than a decade. Here are some of the things 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 she would win 21 medals at the European Championships, 14 medals at the World Championships and two Olympic medals, including one gold at the 2004 Games in Athens. Her signature move, known as “Kabaeva”, has helped her earn the nickname “Russia’s most flexible woman”.

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His career hasn’t been without controversy, though. 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 hide the use of other drugs. She denied the doping and said the substance came from a contaminated pill she bought at a local pharmacy. However, she was briefly banned from competing and forced to return her medals from the 2001 World Championship in Madrid.

She entered politics, then the media business

Kabaeva retired from professional gymnastics around 2007 and decided to enter 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 supporters of a law that deprived many Russian orphans of the opportunity to be adopted abroad.

In 2014, he left politics to serve as 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 framing Western comments on the invasion of Ukraine as a disinformation campaign. She was nominated for the job despite limited industry experience as well as hosting a television talk show.

Putin and Kabaeva do not discuss the relationship

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

“I am, of course, aware of the cliché that politicians live in glass houses, but even then there must be limits,” Putin said, dismissing the rumors. “I haven’t always liked people who hang around with their erotic fantasies, sticking their snotty noses into another person’s life,” she continued.

Berlusconi, standing next to Putin, then mimed shooting the journalist who asked the question with an imaginary machine gun.

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

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

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

Sanctions may not have much effect

Kabaeva is only 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 businesses, Putin’s associates and even two of his adult daughters.

But at this point in the war, it’s unclear how far sanctions against an individual will go to deter Putin, says Rachel Ziemba, a senior adjunct member of the Center for a New American Security. Ziemba says there is little to suggest that Kabaeva has financial resources in the United States, and in the aftermath of similar sanctions against her by both the UK and the European Union, she is likely to have “prepared for the risk” of a sanction from the United States

“The idea is that targeting people close to Putin himself will make his life and those close to him more difficult, which could lead to some kind of policy shift for them,” Ziemba said. “The ship probably sailed on that one.”