International hide and seek: Is Putin's alleged mistress in Switzerland?

International hide and seek: Is Putin's alleged mistress in Switzerland?

As the world tightens sanctions on Russia and President Vladimir Putin, focus has turned to where the Russian leader's family and loved ones are said to be hiding out. Several major news outlets report that the president's family have been sent to an underground bunker located in Ongudaysky, but over the past weekend, reports from the Swiss media have emerged that his alleged mistress and children could in fact be hiding out much closer to home: right here in Switzerland.

Who is Vladimir Putin’s alleged mistress?

According to a number of reports over the past decade, including Swissinfo, Vladimir Putin has been romantically linked with former Russian Olympic gymnast, Alina Kabaeva. Kabaeva is one of the most decorated gymnasts in rhythmic gymnastic history, with two Olympic medals, 14 World Championship medals, and 21 European Championship medals.

Supposedly, it is her sporting successes that caught the eye of President Putin. The 38-year-old was pictured meeting the president as part of the Russian Olympic team several times in the early 2000s.

Naturally, neither party has come forward to confirm these reports, with the president referring to journalists breaking the news as “those who with their snotty noses and erotic fantasies prowl into others’ lives.” He warned, “I have a private life in which I do not permit interference. It must be respected.”

The Russian leader was previously married to Lyudmila Ocheretnaya, an Aeroflot flight attendant from Kaliningrad, with whom he has two daughters. After 30 years of marriage, the pair divorced in 2013, and Ocheretnaya went on to remarry businessman Artur Ocheretny in 2015.

Does the Russian president have any children with Alina Kabaeva?

The reports around Putin’s relationship with Alina Kabaeva differ greatly. Some Russian news sources refer to Kabaeva as the president’s wife, as evidenced by her turning up to a number of events wearing a wedding ring. Other reports maintain that Kabaeva is simply his girlfriend, so it is difficult to say the exact relationship status of the president.

What is more difficult to deny, though, is Kabaeva’s pregnant appearance at several engagements in 2015 and conspicuous disappearances from public life for several periods of time thereafter. Unconfirmed comments reported by Swissinfo state that these disappearances are to do with Kabaeva giving birth to a number of children - twin daughters, who were born near Lugano, Canton Ticino in 2015, and two sons - all allegedly fathered by the president himself. Kabaeva has denied these rumours.

What is Alina Kabaeva’s connection to Switzerland?

Regardless of the specifics, there is mounting evidence that some sort of connection exists between Alina Kabaeva and President Putin, which has sent the world scrambling to find her since the Russian invasion of Ukraine began one month ago. While some reports say that she is hiding out at one of Putin’s Altai mountain residences, a growing number of people are suggesting that she may be in Switzerland instead. 

Unconfirmed sightings reported by Swissinfo state that Kabaeva and her alleged children are Swiss citizens, or at least have some form of Swiss residence permit and were sent to safety in Switzerland before Putin began his attack.

A source has told news outlet Page Six that “his family is holed up in a very private and very secure chalet somewhere in Switzerland - for now, at least.” The source went on to add that “Alina has two young boys and twin girls with Putin who were born in Switzerland… The kids all have Swiss passports, and I imagine she does also.” The Swiss media are now fixated on locating her to find out the truth about her relationship with Putin. 

Pressure is also mounting on the Swiss authorities to find Kabaeva, if she is indeed in Switzerland. An online petition demanding that the Swiss government locate the former Gymnast and revoke her leave to remain has gained more than 55.000 signatures. So far, the authorities in Switzerland have not commented on whether Kabaeva is a Swiss citizen or has any significant assets in the country. Instead, the Federal Department of Justice and Police only commented that it “has no indication of the presence of this person in Switzerland.”

How are Russian oligarchs with Swiss residency affected by sanctions?

If Alina Kabaeva is in Switzerland, she will not be the only wealthy Russian citizen to be affected by the country’s new sanctions regime. Despite not being a named and sanctioned individual, Kabaeva would still struggle to access banks, official documents and travel back to her home country. 

Several other prominent Russian oligarchs living in Switzerland or with assets in the country have also been strongly affected. Three oligarchs in the country currently risk being deported, with a further sanctioned individual only being protected by his Swiss passport. 

Russian commodities magnate Andrei Melnitschenko, who is one of the individuals facing potential deportation, argued in an interview with business magazine Bilanz that the sanctions against him are "without justification." Melnitschenko is the eleventh richest individual in Switzerland and has already been hit hard this month after his 143-metre yacht was seized in the Italian city of Trieste under the same sanctions that may now see him have his Swiss residence permit revoked.



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