The United State and western countries have imposed stringent sanctions against Russia, and its President Vladimir Putin, for invading Ukraine. But Alina Kabaeva, the woman the US government believes to be Mr Putin’s girlfriend, has been spared.
A report in The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) on Sunday said that the possible sanctions against Ms Kabaeva were eventually halted since the step was considered “so personal a blow to Mr Putin that it could further escalate tensions between Russia and the US”.
The White House, however, said she remains a potential sanctions target, the WSJ report further said.
Mr Putin, 69, has never acknowledged a relationship with Ms Kabaeva but American officials believe the 38-year-old to be the mother of at least three of his children.
The newspaper cited unnamed US officials to report that an investigation into the 2016 US Presidential elections revealed that Ms Kabaeva had benefited from Putin’s influence and personal wealth. US officials suspect Ms Kabaeva of concealing some of that wealth abroad.
Mr Putin was personally sanctioned by the Joe Biden administration in February, shortly after the Russian invasion against Ukraine began. And earlier this month, the US, the European Union and Group of Seven countries announced more punishments directed at Mr Putin’s adult children – Maria Vorontsova and Katerina Tikhonova.
But the curbs were not extended to Ms Kabaeva a former Olympic gold medal rhythmic gymnast with whom Mr Putin has long been rumoured to be in a relationship.
Some Russian newspapers have even called her the “Secret First Lady” of the country.
The New York Post reported that Ms Kabaeva showed up at Moscow’s VTB Arena last week to present a rhythmic gymnastics performance at an event – her first public appearance since Russia invaded Ukraine. The event was named after her.
“First rehearsal day of the #FestivalofAlinaKabaeva,” Sirotina, one of the directors of the festival, posted on Instagram.
Kabaeva was last seen in public in December at the same arena for another event. According to a petition launched on change.org, Ms Kabaeva had been hunkered down with her children in a luxury villa in Stitzerland. The petitioners demanded that Switzerland should expel the woman.