The latest round of US sanctions against Russia has brought new scrutiny into the family life of Russian President Vladimir Putin, revealing two new goals: Katerina and Maria, her eldest daughters.
Despite Putin’s dominance in Russian politics, he rarely talks about his family and little is known about his personal life or children.
Katerina and Maria have never publicly confirmed that the Russian leader is their father. Putin’s marriage to his mother Lyudmila, who was once part of the cabin crew of the national airline Aeroflot, ended with divorce in 2013.
The United States says Katerina Tikhonova, 35, is a technology executive whose work supports the Russian government and its defense industry. Her 36-year-old sister, Maria Vorontsova, runs government-funded programs that have received billions of dollars from the Kremlin for genetic research and are personally overseen by Putin, she added.
A senior US official said Washington believes “Putin’s assets are hidden with family members.”
According to the Kremlin website, Maria was born in 1985 and Katerina a year after the family moved to Dresden, then in East Germany, where Putin was a KGB spy.
Fiona Hill and Clifford Gaddy, co-authors of Who Is Mr. Putin?, note in their 2015 biography of the Russian president that “personal information is remarkably sparse for such a prominent public figure. His wife, his daughters and other family members, for example, are conspicuous by their absence from the public domain”.
Katerina is best known, at least on YouTube, as a rock ‘n’ roll acrobatic dancer, where videos show her performing grueling routines including somersaults and somersaults at major international competitions.
But a Reuters news agency research 2015 exposed her in quite a different light, highlighting her connections and influence among Moscow’s elite.
The report says that Katerina, who is now deputy director of the Mathematical Research Institute of Complex Systems at Moscow State University, described herself at the time as the “wife” of Kirill Shamalov, son of Nikolai Shamalov, an old friend. of Putin who is also a shareholder of Bank Rossiya. The report estimated that the couple’s corporate holdings are worth around $2 billion, in addition to other property and assets. Kirill is already under sanctions.
Meanwhile, Maria studied biology at St. Petersburg University and medicine at Moscow State University, and is very involved in genetic research work.
Russian and Western media reports say that she married a Dutch businessman and lived in the Netherlands for a time.
The Reuters report noted that while Maria specialized in the endocrine system, her husband used to work for Gazprombank, a lender with strong ties to the Kremlin elite. Estimates of her assets and property were not immediately available, and Leonid Volkov, chief strategist for imprisoned Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, said the marriage was over.
Navalny has long worked to expose Putin’s wealth, and Volkov said the latest sanctions were welcome.
“It’s a very important symbolic move,” he said, given the seriousness of the situation in Ukraine. “It is a very important symbolic move that means that we personally persecute Putin, we realize how great his personal guilt is in starting this bloody war.”
The extent of Putin’s wealth is a sensitive issue in Russia.
The Kremlin denied last year that it owned a opulent palace on the Black Seaas Navalny alleged in a video that went viral on YouTube.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said in February that the sanctions involved “absurd claims” about some of Putin’s assets.
“The president has no more assets than he has declared,” Peskov said.
During a press conference in 2019, Putin refused to directly answer a question about his daughters’ growing business influence and their ties to the government. He referred to Vorontsova and Tikhonova as “women”, never acknowledging them as his daughters.
“I am proud of them. They continue to study and work,” Putin had said at a news conference several years earlier.
“They are not involved in any commercial activities and they are not involved in politics. They are not trying to make their way anywhere,” she added.
In an interview in 2020, Putin said he did not want to share any information about his family out of “security concerns.”
He revealed that he had grandchildren, but did not say how many.
“I have grandchildren, I am happy. They are very good, very sweet. I really enjoy spending time with them.”
Navalny’s group also calls for sanctions against alina kabayeva, a former gymnast and parliamentarian, who is said to be Putin’s second wife and the mother of his two youngest children. She also chairs the National Media Group, Russia’s largest media group.