(CNN Spanish) — Rumors in the international press have romantically linked Alina Kabaeva with Vladimir Putin for more than a decade. Now who was a renowned rhythmic gymnast in her country and Olympic champion is once again in the headlines of the newspapers after being sanctioned by the governments of the United States, the United Kingdom and the European Union, precisely because of her closeness to the president of Russia who unleashed a war in Ukraine more than five months ago.
The two are rarely seen together. Their relationship, which Putin has since denied, is unclear. But there are more than a decade of rumors, which do not fade with time. Who is the alleged girlfriend of the President of Russia?
From gymnast and Olympic champion to running a pro-Kremlin media conglomerate
Alina Kabaeva was born in 1983 in Uzbekistan, which was then a Soviet republic. At the age of 13, she made her debut in rhythmic gymnastics, winning her first rope world title in 1998, according to her biography published on the official site of the Olympic Games.
Since then she has become a renowned gymnast who won multiple medals in her country, in European competitions and in the Olympic Games. It was precisely around this time that she supposedly met Putin.
At the 2004 Athens Olympics, Kabaeva won the rhythmic gymnastics gold medal. Like other Russian athletes, she was not spared from doping problems: in 2001 she lost her medals after testing positive for a banned substance at the Goodwill Games. However, she was not banned from competing because a counterfeit drug had been the cause of the conviction, says her biography on the official Olympics site.
After being champion in Athens, she “withdrew little by little” from the sport and made the leap to politics. She held a seat in the State Duma, the lower house of the Russian parliament, with the ruling United Russia party.
After her time in the Duma, Kabaeva was chosen as one of the torchbearers when Russia hosted the Winter Olympics in Sochi in 2014, an event that took place shortly before Russia illegally annexed Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula.
She is currently the director of the National Media Group, a media conglomerate that the US Treasury Department describes as “a pro-Kremlin empire of television, radio and print organizations.”
According to the newspaper The Wall Street Journal, US officials say that she and her family have become rich thanks to their closeness to Putin, although the Kremlin continues to deny any relationship between the two. The US Treasury Department has declined to comment on the case.
His comments in favor of the war
Kabaeva has made public statements in support of the Russian military since the beginning of the war in Ukraine. Shortly after the invasion began, the former gymnast broke her silence and appeared at an event in Moscow where she criticized the measures that affected Russian athletes.
“If the competitions are going to be held only in Russia, then, on the contrary, the gymnasts are going to be better, more spectacular, and the Russian gymnasts are not losing anything in this situation,” he said.
Recently, in a context of wartime symbolism, he called on Russia to back Putin’s war effort: “Every family has a war story, and we shouldn’t forget it. We should pass it down from generation to generation.”
US, UK and EU sanctions
The US Treasury Department on Tuesday sanctioned the alleged girlfriend of the Russian president as part of a series of measures targeting Russian elites in the Biden administration’s latest attempt to punish the Kremlin for its ongoing war in Ukraine.
The sanctions come after US officials discussed whether to impose sanctions on Kabaeva, considering such a decision could increase tensions by being an extremely personal blow against Putin, the newspaper reported. The Wall Street Journal in April.
Alina Maratovna Kabaeva was sanctioned “for being or having been a leader, official, senior executive or member of the board of directors of the Government of the Russian Federation,” according to a statement from the Treasury Department.
Regardless of her actual relationship to Russia’s president, the appearance of Kabaeva’s name—who remains relatively unknown outside of Russia—on the US and European Union sanctions list will cause her finances to come under enormous international scrutiny. .
CNN reached out to the National Media Group, led by Kabaeva, for comment on the proposed sanctions.
With reporting from CNN’s Luke McGee and Jennifer Hansler