Putin's rumoured girlfriend Alina Kabaeva sanctioned by UK

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Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) smiles next to Russian gymnast Alina Kabaeva during a meeting with the Russian Olympic team at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia in this November 4, 2004 file photo. REUTERS/ITAR-TASS/PRESIDENTIAL PRESS SERVICE/Files      TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Vladimir Putin pictured with Alina Kabaeva in 2004. (Reuters)

The UK government has sanctioned Vladimir Putin's alleged Olympic gymnast girlfriend Alina Kabaeva.

It is part of a new series of sanctions targeting Putin's inner circle as punishment for Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

Kabaeva is a retired Olympic gold gymnast who the Foreign Office said "is alleged to have a close personal friendship with Putin", and who has "risen to become chair of the board of the National Media Group, reportedly the largest private Russian media company".

Of the 12 sanctioned Putin associates mentioned in the Foreign Office's press release on Friday, Kabaeva's name was listed first, demonstrating the significance of their "friendship".

Russian gymnast Alina Kabayeva arrives for the Laureus Sports Awards in the Mariinsky Theatre in St Petersburg February 18, 2008. Tennis world number one Roger Federer won the prestigious Laureus Sportsman of the year award for a record fourth year in a row on Monday.     REUTERS/Alexander Demianchuk (RUSSIA)
'Close personal friendship with Putin': Alina Kabaeva pictured in 2008. (Reuters)

Her grandmother, Anna Zatseplina, was listed second, ahead of Putin's ex-wife Lyudmila Ocheretnaya and first cousin Igor Putin, who was fourth.

The Foreign Office said Putin’s official assets are "modest" but that his "luxury lifestyle" is funded by a "shady network" of family, friends and elites.

It said these people have "benefited from his rule and in turn support his lifestyle. Their reward is influence over the affairs of the Russian state that goes far beyond their formal positions."

Watch: Putin showing 'barbaric aggression' against Ukraine - Johnson

Despite officially owning few assets, Putin is said to have a lavish lifestyle, with links to a £566m yacht and a $1bn "Putin palace" officially owned by close associate Arkady Rotenberg, who was sanctioned in December 2020.

The government said the fresh wave of sanctions will "isolate" his associates and financiers, "compounding the pressure on Putin as he continues his senseless invasion into Ukraine".

Who is Alina Kabaeva?

Kabaeva, 39, is a former Olympic gymnast who was once named "Russia's most flexible woman".

As well as an Olympic gold from 2004, she also holds numerous World and European Championship gold medals.

Kabaeva was convicted of using a banned substance in 2001 and disqualified from competing for two years.

Since Russia's invasion of Ukraine, there have been calls for her to be stripped of her two Olympic medals.

Russia's Alina Kabaeva (C) celebrates her gold medal win in the rhythmic gymnastics individual all-round gold medal at the Athens 2004 Olympic Summer Games on August 29, 2004. Her compatriot Irina Tchachina (L) finished second and Ukraine's Anna Bessonova (R) took bronze.
Alina Kabaeva, centre, celebrates her gold medal win in the rhythmic gymnastics competition at the Athens Olympics in 2004. (Reuters)

Following her sports career, Kabaeva transitioned to politics and was the deputy speaker in Russia’s State Duma between 2007 and 2014, going on to become the chair of the Kremlin-linked National Media Group.

When Putin and ex-wife Lyudmila Ocheretnaya’s divorce was finalised in 2014, rumours of a relationship with Kabaeva - which went back six years - were denied.

Further denials were made when it was reported Putin fathered multiple children with Kabaeva, including a son in 2008, a daughter in 2012, another daughter in 2015 and twin sons in 2019.

Read more: Russian military leaders ‘sacked and arrested’ amid heavy battlefield losses

Despite this, Putin has been pictured with Kabaeva multiple times and she is widely regarded by Russians to be the cause of Putin’s marriage breakdown.

In recent years she has disappeared from the limelight and stopped attending public functions.

It is believed she is currently in Switzerland due to her children holding Swiss passports, making it potentially difficult for authorities there to take action against Kabaeva.

And while it has not been officially confirmed she is in Switzerland, there have been reports of her visiting restaurants and cafes with an armed guard.

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