Update: More than five months after Russia's invasion of Ukraine, the woman widely known as Russia's "secret first lady" has been hit with US sanctions. Former Olympic gymnast Alina Kabaeva, 39, was one of 13 Russian nationals added to the sanctions list Tuesday, the Washington Post reports. Kabaeva, who was reportedly removed from a sanctions list in a last-minute decision in April, has long been rumored to be Vladimir Putin's mistress—and to be hiding some of his personal wealth. The US announcement cited her "close relationship to Putin." Our story from April 26 follows:
Alina Kabaeva, the alleged mistress of Russian President Vladimir Putin, with whom she's believed to have at least three children, is a potential target for US sanctions, the Biden administration said Monday in response to questions about why Kabaeva had been left out of sanctions targeting Putin and two of his daughters from his marriage to ex-wife Lyudmila. The Biden administration—which has been targeting family members of Putin and his associates on the belief that it's through them that wealth and assets are hidden, per the Washington Post—believes Kabaeva is hiding some of Putin's personal wealth abroad, the Wall Street Journal reported Sunday.
The former Olympic gold medalist in rhythmic gymnastics who was once named "Russia's most flexible woman" was first linked to Putin in 2008, five years before he confirmed his divorce from his then-wife of 30 years, per Newsweek. Kabaeva, who went on to serve as a lawmaker with Putin's United Russia party before becoming chair of the board of directors of the National Media Group, has never confirmed the relationship, nor has Putin. Nonetheless, she's widely considered Russia's "secret first lady," per CBS News. However, the Journal reported that US officials held off on sanctioning the 38-year-old out of fear that "so personal a blow to Mr. Putin ... could further escalate tensions between Russia and the US."
White House press secretary Jen Psaki seemed to deny that Monday. "No one is safe from our sanctions" and "there's more we will likely do," she said, per the Post, echoing comments made to the Journal by anonymous officials. Georgy Alburov, an associate of jailed Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, has been among those calling for Kabaeva to be immediately sanctioned, arguing she is "the big propaganda boss" and "her relatives get apartments and houses bought with money stolen from Russians." He adds that "if after all the war crimes in Ukraine, foreign governments are still afraid to make Putin angry, then he really does have the right to continue wiping his feet all over the world." (Read more Alina Kabaeva stories.)