This is the moment Vladimir Putin’s gymnast ‘lover’ admits in a TV interview he is her ‘ideal man’ – as new photographs show the luxury forest estate where she reportedly lives with their secret children.
Alina Kabaeva, 39, is said to live with the Russian president at a secret forest palace guarded by the elite FSO security service in Valdai – 250 miles north west of Moscow.
The pair have never acknowledged a relationship, but are suspected to have at least two children together.
Fifteen years ago this month she was interviewed on TV by schoolchildren and while not mentioning him by name – as the dictator has never to this day permitted her to – it is now clear beyond all doubt that he was then, as he still is now, the man in her life.
She gave some revealing insights.
Alina Kabaeva, 39, is said to live with the Russian president at a secret palace at a forest palace guarded by the elite FSO security service in Valdai
Vladimir Putin’s alleged palace in Valdai, Russia, where a new report says he spends time with his secret family
At the time, she was a coquettish 24-year-old, seen at the time as Russia’s most eligible woman, and Putin, now 70 and inflicting a cruel and bloody war on Europe, was 55.
Asked if she had her met her ‘ideal man’, she giggled: ‘I have.’
Her young audience asked her: ‘You said you had a boyfriend? Why aren’t you in a rush to marry him, are you afraid of happiness? Who is he?’
‘So you’ve managed to ask this question, well done you,’ she laughed.
‘As for being scared of happiness, sometimes I am so happy I am scared to be that happy. Of course there are some concerns…’
‘And who [is he]?’, another asked.
‘A man, a very good man, a great man,’ she replied, fidgeting uneasily with a pen.
‘I love him very much.’
She replied to another question that her last gift to him had been ‘an Alaska coat, a coat with fur, very beautiful’. Putin was soon seen in such a coat.
Kabaeva was asked whether she would be able to ‘take a husband away from a family’ – and at the time Putin was married to former air stewardess Lyudmila, now 65.
She started by saying ‘I think not’, but immediately qualified her answer.
‘Let me comment,’ she demanded. ‘Life is complicated, and speaking about a married man.
‘If there are issues in a family and a man is looking at another woman, and is communicating with another woman and not with his wife, it means the problem has already happened, and there wouldn’t be anything good in this family.’
In retrospect, this is likely one of several moments over the 15 years she has been romantically linked to Putin that Kabaeva – now seen by all as Russia’s ‘uncrowned tsarina’ – has tried to ‘come out’ and reveal herself as the younger woman in his life.
Fifteen years ago this month Kabaeva was interviewed on TV by schoolchildren and gave some revealing insights
New pictures have emerged showing the interior of the forest palace where Putin reportedly lives with his lover
The pair have never acknowledged a relationship, but are suspected to have at least two children together
A slew of remarkable investigations by opposition and independent Russian journalists have revealed her clear role in Putin’s life
A large playground at the property within the guarded estate in Valdai – 250 miles north west of Moscow
An image from Google Maps shows the purported location of what the report says is Vladimir Putin’s secret lakeside residence in Russia’s Valdai region
The former KGB spy may have come close to doing this, but then held back, and the official Kremlin line 15 years later is still to deny any relationship with the gymnast, and to say that the private life of the president, divorced from Lyudmila five years after Kabaeva’s TV interview with those children, is strictly off-limits.
Yet a slew of remarkable investigations by opposition and independent Russian journalists have revealed her clear role in Putin’s life, showing her knee-deep in the web of corruption that surrounds his rule.
These establish that she and her relatives or associates own or control two dozen properties, including those at and near the Valdai lakeside palace between Moscow and St Petersburg where she and their joint children – a family entirely hidden from Russian voters – are often in residence.
Elsewhere in her real estate empire is a sumptuous rooftop penthouse with its own on the Black Sea in Sochi, the largest apartment in Russia, some 76 times the size of the type of typical Soviet-built flats in which millions of people still live.
She has had the use of a £506 million super yacht – the luxurious 460ft-long Scheherazade – evidently as a Christmas gift to Putin by a bunch of Russian oligarchs.
The couple’s riches and massive security around their secret lives is funded both by the state and money from oligarchs who Putin has helped to secure exceptional wealth during his almost quarter of a century as either president or prime minister.
A secret Cyprus company – in the hated West – has also played a key role, say new revelations.
Kabaeva had a stint as an ardently loyalty MP – among a group of ‘Putin Babes’ aimed at giving a ‘sexier image’ to his United Russia party – before suddenly switching to a role as nominal head of a media group owned by a crony oligarch, a post raking her in some £8 million a year, compared with the Russian average annual figure of £5,600.
Vladimir Putin and Alina Kabaeva pictured sitting alongside each other at a gymnastic festival in 2001 in Russia
This is said to be the dining room at the mansion owned by Vladimir Putin and his secret partner
A study inside the luxury property understood to belong to Putin and Alina Kabaeva
A dining room with a glass table and golden chairs is seen inside the mansion understood to belong to Putin and Kabaeva
She has done well for a woman who despite being a nine times world champion was, at the age of 18, stripped of six world championship medals after testing positive for a banned diuretic in 2001.
Winding the clock back, it was less than a month after Kabaeva’s TV Tsenter interview that Moscow Korrespondent newspaper – owned by Putin’s KGB colleague and fellow spy Alexander Lebedev, by now a businessman and major investor in annexed Crimea – reported that Putin was planning to divorce his wife and wed the gymnast.
For a few days the story stood there – during which time Kabaeva, known for her extremely flexibility, initially did not deny it to the reporter who wrote it,
Then a ton of bricks fell and Lebedev summarily closed the newspaper.
Putin, having initially not reacted, suddenly said angrily: ‘In what you said [about the Kabaeva story], there is not one word of truth. I have always reacted negatively to those who with their snotty noses and erotic fantasies prowl into others’ lives.’
He told the media: ‘There are limits and I have a private life in which I do not permit interference. It must be respected.’
Sources at the paper nevertheless stood by the story, insisting: ‘We had information, and we reported it.’
It is interesting when the relationship first started.
Perhaps 2008, but possibly earlier because by this time Putin had ditched mistress Svetlana Krivonogikh, 47, the mother of his love child Elizaveta Krivonogikh, aka Luiza Rozova, now 20.
A former cleaner, Svetlana – like Alina – gained a property empire and riches as well as a child from her relationship with Putin.
Curiously, as far back as 2004, Kabaeva’s mother Lubov appeared to predict a relationship with Putin as she complained about the paparazzi scrutiny on Alina’s then relationship with a Georgian cop, who was later subjected to a criminal investigation by the dictator’s regime, prompting him to flee abroad.
Her mother said in 2004: ‘Alina did fall in love, but why sit on our doorstep and secretly photograph her…?
Kabaeva boasts a 12,900 square ft log home in the Valdai compound, near the ‘golden’ mansion she shares with Putin, designed for her and the children
‘Can’t a sportswoman fall in love with a policeman? Even a president? Alina did her best for the country’s glory, and multiple times, and what did the paparazzi do for it?’
The same year Kabaeva, 21, was only too keen to thrust herself into the limelight with a Maxim shoot when she posed naked except for strategically placed fur.
‘I didn’t ask Alina to pose completely nude. Maxim magazine only allows a certain level of nudity,’ said photographer Mikhail Korolov, who described her as ‘full of sex’.
‘She wasn’t very sure at the beginning, but then thought about it and agreed. She wasn’t just a model for a men’s magazine, but a celebrity and world champion. So she couldn’t let herself look vulgar.
‘It’s not difficult to take clothes off, it’s more about how you look in pictures – as it can be done badly and appear ugly. So much depends on the photographer and his team. But Alina believed in me.
‘There’s only one secret about why she agreed – I try to do beautiful pictures, and every girl wants to be, and look, beautiful. Alina is not an exception.
‘I didn’t even need to persuade her. She behaved very naturally. She was a bit shy at the beginning but then relaxed. She is a very pleasant person. She’s clever enough not to make a capricious star of herself.
‘The bits of her I saw are very beautiful indeed.
‘She has a very well groomed body. She’s full of sex. She’s got some very special energy.
‘She’s simply ideal. Usually the staff spend a lot of time putting makeup on models’ bodies – and after the shoot pictures are edited on the computer.
Glamour: Putin’s mistress posed in furs for a magazine cover in the year she triumphed at the Olympics
The Russian president’s personal train station, located a short distance from his secret residence in Valdai
‘But Alina doesn’t need all these special measures, she’s perfectly okay without it all.’
Three months after the Korrespondent story – with Putin now beginning a crackdown on the media – Sobesednik newspaper claimed Kabaeva had cancelled participation in a TV ice show extravaganza ‘because of her pregnancy’.
The report rapidly vanished from databases.
The following spring, Express Gazeta tabloid claimed Kabaeva had given birth, though offering few details.
Her coach, mentor and confidante Irina Viner – wife of Russian oligarch and ex-Arsenal FC shareholder Alisher Usmanov – said knowingly: ‘When Alina finds the right time, she will say it herself. I’m just happy for her.’
The same year, flight records show Kabaeva flew with two of Putin’s most trusted friends from Prague to Sochi.
Nikolai Shamalov, were later implicated in a controversial scheme involving the sale of medical equipment which allegedly led to $48 million being funnelled from Swiss bank accounts to build a luxury Black Sea residence fit for a tsar and nicknamed ‘Putin’s Palace’.
This £1 billion pile at Gelendzhik – which she shares with him, say reports – also boasts a pole-dancing boudoir and vineyard.
The following year, 2009, there was a new spate of speculation with the New York Post stating she had given birth to Putin’s son named Dmitry in 2009. Later the paper’s sources added a daughter to the family in 2012.
Photographer Korolov went back to her, seeking permission to feature her in a coffee table book including all the women – among them Russian spy Anna Chapman – who had undressed for his camera.
‘Alina didn’t want to be in the book, for some reason, perhaps because she has got another kind of image now,’ he surmised.
She denied having had any children telling Russian Vogue in 2011, she said, laughing: ‘My sweet little nephew Arseny has joined my ever-expanding family in Moscow. Everyone, of course, thinks that he is my son.’
One theory is that in 2012 she resolved to put pressure on a still married Putin to normalise their relationship, and that what followed was his divorce from estranged wife Lyudmila.
Star: Kabaeva excelled at gymnastics as she became a gold medal-winning gymnast
The plan was for her to be formally acknowledged at the February Winter Olympics in Sochi in 2014 with her lighting the Olympic flame.
Yet this led to a wave of web mockery: one image showed their picture, with Putin appealing: ‘Come on baby, light my flame.’
While she had a prominent role at the opening ceremony, and was seen wearing what appeared to be a wedding ring, the acknowledgement did not follow, nor has it since.
An emotional Kabaeva – 31 years younger than Putin – smiled but appeared to be fighting back tears as she made her appearance.
The dictator of neighbouring Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko hinted that Putin’s divorce decision finally came about because Kabaeva ‘put pressure on the president’.
On her 30th birthday, the main channel of Russian TV devoted a hagiography to her in which she directly addressed the claims that she had children by Putin (though again not naming him).
Asked about her desire for a family, she flashed her beguiling smile to the camera, saying emphatically: ‘Of course, I dream about having children, it’s true.
‘Although the whole country – and perhaps now other countries too – write that I’ve got two or three children. Sadly, I don’t have children yet. But, of course, I want to be a mother. Still, I’m not, yet.’
Before mysteriously vanishing from sight for four months in May 2014, she said elliptically : ‘Everyone should have their own little secrets, I do too. I am happy that I am surrounded by love.’
Asked in the May 2014 interview to specifically deny the reports of a relationship with Putin – if they are not true – she signally failed to do so.
Instead she replied: ‘We cannot fight with rumours. I hope that someday the gossipers will calm down.’
Breezily, she said it is ‘a price for my public status today’, adding: ‘Probably the media couldn’t invent anything else to be read.’
Putin’s spokesman has implied there is no time for a woman in the president’s life, implying as Lyudmila did when they announced their divorce that he is wedded to his work, giving the impression of a lonely monk-like devotion to Russia.
‘Look at Putin’s work schedule,’ he said. ‘You will see that there is no place for family affairs in his life, which is probably unfortunate.
‘It’s only about the duties and responsibility that he has as head of the state.’
He dismissed the claims of a 2014 marriage at sacred Iversky monastery – fuelled by Putin foe Alexei Navalny – as ‘an internet exercise to relieve boredom’.
The following year Putin said: ‘First I need to get my ex-wife Lyudmila married, then I’ll think about myself.’
His exasperated spokesman Dmitry Peskov said of the Kabaeva marriage speculation: ‘These are all rumours, it is impossible to deny them and there is no sense to rubbish them.
‘We have done it hundreds of times, but the rumours keep circulating and what do you do with them? But they have nothing to do with reality.’
Peskov is married to Olympic skater Tatiana Navka, 47, a close Kabaeva friend.
It is now clear – though none of this has been released officially – that in 2015 Alina travelled to Switzerland where she gave birth at Clinica Sant’Anna in Lugano.
Four years later, in 2019, she gave birth in Moscow, with the same Swiss medical team led by Soviet-born Dr Natalia Thiebaud Kondratieva travelling to be with her.
At the time there were rumours of twins.
Sergei Kanev, an investigative journalist close to the Russian intelligence services, posted that she gave birth to twin boys by Caesarean.
A source close to Kabaeva, then 36, was quoted saying: ‘We do not comment on the rumours.’
Before and after this 2019 birth, Kabaeva vanished from view entirely – for a period of almost three years.
Before doing so she made a rare public appearance as she successfully defended her PhD thesis in training pre-school children in rhythmic gymnastics.
Also she posed in an extraordinary dress making clear she saw herself as the modern-day Russian empress, even if Putin had not acknowledged her.
On her bosom, she wore the sacred Russian emblem of the double-headed eagle, along with three tsarist crowns.
The bird clutched in its claws a sceptre and orb, held by Russian tsars at their coronations.
Imprinted, too, on her full length white dress slaying a snake was St George, patron saint of Moscow.
At the time of the 2019 birth, the entire VIP fourth floor at the Kulakov Research Centre for Obstetrics, Gynaecology and Perinatology was cleared to accommodate her.
Moskovsky Komsomolets carried the story on its website only to suddenly delete it and wipe all mentions of the claims, including from the internet cache.
Putin awards Alina Kabaeva with ‘For Merit to the Fatherland’ order at the Kremlin, Moscow, in 2005
New pictures are said to show the inside of the Putin hideaway at Valdai for the first time
A top woman obstetrician Leyla Adamyan who works at the clinic where Kabaeva allegedly gave birth was soon awarded the order ‘For Merit to the Fatherland’ – the country’s highest civilian medal – personally by Putin.
In her speech of thanks, the surgeon said cryptically: ‘This order also belongs to you, because you have put on a huge pedestal the words “mother”, “motherland”, “child” with all your life, especially in the most recent years.’
Earlier, a journalist from LifeNews tabloid – controlled by Kabaeva’s media group – three months later demanded of Putin at a press conference: ‘When will you get married? And with whom?’
Did Alina put him up to it?
The Kremlin strongman smiled and – appearing happy to have been asked the question – admitted he intends to wed again in future.
‘As a decent person I will have to do this sooner or later,’ he told the questioner in December 2018.
He did not mention who he would marry, but many took the question as either pressure from Kabaeva or the start of a Kremlin PR campaign to reveal the identity of Russia’s first lady.
In public statements and also body language – as well as regular plastic surgery – she is increasingly seen to echo Putin.
In March 2019, she gave a remote magazine interview. It mirrored his mourning over the loss of the USSR.
Alina Kabaeva sings at 2018 ‘Alina’ gymnastics festival. Earlier in the war in Ukraine there was speculation Putin had hidden her and his young family in a bunker ‘safe’ from Western attack
Among Kabaeva’s properties is reported to be a penthouse, pictured, in the Royal Park residential complex in Sochi. The media group Poekt claims it is ‘the largest apartment in Russia’
‘The Soviet Union, with all its minuses, problems and the monopoly of the Communist Party, did everything to support both its big and small nations,” she said.
‘All felt equal and could hope for any career in politics, arts or sports. Representatives of different nations lived in peace and friendship.’
Earlier in the war in Ukraine there was speculation Putin had hidden Kabaeva and his young family in a bunker ‘safe’ from Western attack.
Yet she has lately made public appearances and used them to stress her loyalty to him and his conflict that much of the world sees as evil.
The West is in no doubt about her place in his life, having sanctioned her.
‘She is alleged to have a close personal relationship with Putin,’ said the UK in imposing the sanctions.
Canadian foreign affairs minister Melanie Joly initially called her ‘a person very close to Putin’.
Then she added: ‘I don’t know (what) to call her, but his partner, yes, I guess.’
Kabaeva proudly wears the ‘Z’ insignia – a symbol of the barbarity he has unleashed in the conflict, likened by critics to a Russian swastika.
Last month she saluted Putin’s notorious war propagandists and pro-war media as being as important as Kalashnikov machine guns.
Clenching her fist, she demanded: ‘Let’s keep working.’
Despite this, Kabaeva has always loved the West, and until 2008 was an ambassador for Longines watches, with Italy and Switzerland her favourites.
Now, she can no longer enjoy a Cologny residence, near Geneva, linked to Gennady Timchenko, 70, an oligarch very close to Putin, seen as a key bolthole for her.
Now she boasts a 12,900 square ft log home in the Valdai compound, near the ‘golden’ mansion she shares with Putin, designed for her and the children.
Putin – now ailing – was reported as being incandescent over the latest spate of allegations on their private life and its corrupt funding.
One version is that he blames her friends for the leaks.
Yet her position as undeclared wife or mistress becomes extremely precarious if the war continues to go wrong for Putin, who many believe to be in ailing health.
Were he to be ousted in a coup, or assassinated, rather than replaced by an autocrat in his own mould, she could be in deep peril.
Earlier in the war, when she was reported as hiding near Lake Geneva, a petition garnered 75,000 demanding the Swiss authorities throw her out and ‘reunite Eva Braun with her Führer’.
This is how many see her, despite Putin’s failure to publicly acknowledge her. Braun, of course, perished with the Nazi leader in his bunker.
And Russia’s last empress Alexandra, Queen Victoria’s granddaughter, was executed with her husband Nicholas II, and their five children after the Bolshevik revolution of 1917.
Amid the disaster of Putin’s war in Ukraine, she is perhaps right to be ‘scared’ of being his consort.