Who Is Alina Kabaeva, Putin's Alleged Partner?

March, 2022. War rages across Ukraine. Far away, high in the Swiss Alps, behind the gates and walls of a palatial villa, behind the security cameras and the regular change of guards, nervously scrolling through news by a dish of beluga caviar, sits Alina Kabaeva, lover of Vladimir Putin, himself the uncontested ruler of Russia. That's the story, anyway. As Independent (posted at Yahoo! News) and other outlets reported, an online petition to deport Kabaeva from Switzerland gained about 60,000 signatures. The petition, in English, German, and French, called her the "favourite wife of a delusional dictator" and compared her to Eva Braun, the lover of Adolf Hitler. It claimed that Switzerland's continued tolerance of Kabaeva, or any other member of Putin's intimate circle, constituted a violation of the country's longstanding commitment to neutrality.

The petition may be popular, but it's unclear what effect it might have. The scenario evoked between the lines of the petition, and repeated here — the villa, the guards, the luxury, the safety and splendor of the Alps — may all be a fantasy. As the Irish Mirror reports, there's no guarantee that Kabaeva is even in Switzerland. There's a good chance she is bunkering in a mountain fortress in the Altai mountain range, in Siberia, far from Europe and the war. But the mysteries abound. Where is Kabaeva? Who is she?

'Russia's most flexible woman'

Here's what we know: Alina Kabaeva is a former rhythmic gymnast from Russia, seen demonstrating her skills in the photo above. She was born in 1983. Her parents are both Russian; her father, a former professional footballer, is a Muslim Tatar (via Heavy).

Kabaeva mastered her demanding sport in childhood. The International Olympic Committee confirms that Kabaeva debuted internationally at the age of 13, and won her first title, in rope, in 1998. She won a number of bronze and silver medals at Osaka in 1999, establishing herself as a favorite for the 2000 Sydney Olympics. However, she dropped a hoop during one of her routines, which left her with bronze. She stormed across European and world tournaments over the next four years, collecting medals and training for the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens. There, finally, she won an Olympic gold. She retired soon after. The Russian government bestowed on her the title of Honored Master of Sport. Legions of fans hailed her as "Russia's most flexible woman," according to Fortune.

From sport to politics

As Heavy reports, Kabaeva's sporting career had its own controversies. She was stripped of her medals at the 2001 Goodwill Games after testing positive for furosemide, a banned substance. It was not a serious enough infraction to ban her from competing, though.

Maybe it was this taste for fame and controversy that led Kabaeva to leave sport for politics. Upon retiring, Kabaeva ran successfully for the Duma, the Russian Federation's parliament, for United Russia, the party that supports Vladimir Putin's presidency.  She served as deputy speaker from 2007 to 2014. Later she worked in pro-Kremlin media, drawing enormous salaries for chairing media outlets like Sport Express and REN TV (per Heavy and the Daily Mail). As recently as 2019, Kabaeva was also held the chair of the board of directors of the National Media Group, through which she and her family seem to have acquired about $20 million in property across Russia (via Heavy).

Russian romance

Kabaeva entered politics during Vladimir Putin's second term as president. It was a period of energy and optimism for their United Russia party: Putin had crushed a nationalist stirring in Chechnya, and was preparing to invade the republic of Georgia in the name of its Ossetian minority (via History). Writing in UnHerd, Ben Judah of the Atlantic Council remembers those years in Moscow as "low-key golden era: a time when things were more or less open and alright."

The spectacularly beautiful Kabaeva seems to have caught the president's eye fairly early. The Moscow Correspondent, a newspaper, first reported rumors of their romance in 2008, according to the Independent article posted at Yahoo! News; the fact that the Moscow Correspondent shut down almost immediately after running that story may be a kind of backhanded confirmation. In 2015, a Swiss newspaper reported that Kabaeva had given birth to a child in Switzerland. The Kremlin denied the child was Putin's.

The lover of a president

Putin and Kabaeva are not married; at least, not that either have acknowledged. There is a small chance, mentioned by Heavy, that they may have tied the knot in secret. Kabaeva had the honor of carrying the Olympic torch at the 2014 Sochi Olympics (a decision that perhaps aged poorly: Sochi is just across the Black Sea from Crimea, the Ukrainian peninsula that Putin invaded that year in the long leadup to the 2022 war). It seemed, during the opening ceremony, that Kabaeva was wearing a wedding band. The New York Post published reports that she'd been seen with such a band in 2017 as well, this time on holiday in Italy.

The official press office of the Kremlin has never said anything one way or another. Putin himself, when asked, is not above losing his famous cool. "I've always had a negative feeling about people poking their snotty noses and erotic fantasies into other people's lives," he once barked at the Sunday Times (via the New York Post).

Putin's family life

Putin himself is divorced. He was married to Lyudmila Skrebneva, an airline hostess, for decades. Their divorce came five years after his affair with Kabaeva was alleged to have begun, in 2013. Putin is famously secretive about his personal life, so many of the details circulating about the Kabaeva affair are based on hints and speculations. However, as Fortune lays out, it seems fairly certain that Kabaeva bore twins, probably fathered by Putin, in Lugano, Switzerland in 2015. She may have two more children beyond the twins; if that's true, they are likely also Putin's children. All four children are rumored to hold Swiss citizenship.

Putin has two other daughters from his first marriage, as Insider reports. One of them, Katerina, makes the occasional appearance on Russian state media as a biotechnology expert; anchors and hosts are careful not to mention her family connections. The New York Post reports that she was last seen in public in 2018, defending her PhD thesis about training preschool-aged children in gymnastics. The last confirmation of Kabaeva's whereabouts was early in 2022, shortly before the Ukraine War broke out. The Daily Mail saw footage of her dancing at a rhythmic gymnastics tournament in Moscow, miles and miles from the Alps.