Russian President Vladimir Putin might be one of the world’s most well-known leaders, but remarkably little is known about his family and relatives. Consider: It’s far easier for Russians to find out about U.S. President Barack Obama’s children than it is for them to dig up info on the secretive ex-KGB officer’s two daughters.
“We have never told you about Putin’s family, and we will not do this in the future,” a Kremlin spokesman said bluntly late last year, when asked to comment on the president’s personal life.
This secrecy is largely inherited from the Soviet era, when the everyday lives of Communist Party chiefs’ families were shrouded in secrecy. The more contemporary spin, per Putin, is that he wants to spare his family the media spotlight and ensure they lead what he’s called “normal lives.”
Not that many people can claim blood ties to the longtime Russian leader. Both Putin’s parents died in the late 1990s, and neither of his two elder brothers lived beyond early childhood. Putin also recently divorced his wife of 30 years, Lyudmila.
This lack of concrete information on Putin’s kinfolk has led to widespread rumor and speculation. But with interest in the Russian strongman at an all-time high, we’ve set out to separate the facts from fiction. Herewith, the lowdown on some of the men and women in the Putin family clan.
Maria and Yekaterina Putina (Note: Russian male and female surnames differ in spelling.)
Not much is known about Putin’s two daughters, apart from the fact that Maria was born in 1985 in Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) and Yekaterina in 1986 in Dresden, East Germany, while Putin was stationed there during his time in the KGB. The only official photographs of them are black-and-white images from their early childhood. There are no confirmed photographs of either of the women as adults, although this image, supposedly of Maria with Putin and Lyudmila, has been circulating online. This photo, reportedly of Yekaterina, was published by South Korean media in 2010. The Kremlin has not commented on either photograph.
It’s also unclear what Putin’s daughters do for a living—if anything—and where they live. When pressed, Putin said at a televised news conference in December 2012 that both his daughters live in Moscow, where they’re combining their studies with part-time work. “I’m proud of them,” he said.
That hasn’t halted the rumors, of course. Media reports have suggested that Maria in fact lives with her boyfriend, Dutch national Jorrit Faassen, in a village in southern Holland. Putin is even said to fly in for visits. The Kremlin has called such reports “fake.”
In 2010, a respected South Korean newspaper reported that Yekaterina had dated the son of a retired admiral who worked at the South Korean embassy in Moscow. The paper even suggested the two would get married. A Kremlin spokesman said the report did “not correspond with reality.”
Indeed, Putin has done such a good job of protecting his adult daughters’ lives that it’s safe to say the two women could walk through central Moscow without a single camera being pointed in their direction.
Putin’s younger cousin, Igor, is a mustachioed Red Army veteran who served in eastern Russia and central Asia from 1974 until the collapse of the Soviet Union. He continued to serve in the newly independent Russia’s army until 1998, after which he went into politics. One year into Putin’s second presidential term (2004-2008), he became a member of the ruling United Russia party. In 2006, he quit and joined A Just Russia, a fake opposition party created by a Kremlin spin doctor to give the illusion of a functioning democracy.
In September 2010, Igor was appointed vice-president of Master Bank, a high-profile financial institution that unexpectedly closed down last year over allegations of “dubious operations.” Igor was long gone by then, having quit the bank to become CEO of the oil and gas pipe company Surguttruboprovodstroi. There’s no evidence that his cousin helped secure Igor the lucrative post, but opposition figures cite the appointment as typical of the nepotism and corruption they say is at the heart of Putin’s Russia.
Middle-aged businessman Roman is the nearest thing the Putin clan has to a black sheep. The son of Igor Putin (see above), he kicked up a minor storm earlier this month with allegations of corruption at Russian Railways, a state company run by longtime Kremlin ally. He also turned heads when he admitted his admiration for the work—but not the politics—of anti-corruption activist Alexei Navalny, the opposition figurehead who has vowed to see Vladimir Putin behind bars.
Roman recently launched a consulting firm designed to attract foreign investors to Russia. The creatively named Putin Consulting promises “fruitful and secure conditions” for investors and boasts of Roman’s “strong relationships” with the country’s leadership.
In 2008, a Moscow newspaper reported that Putin had secretly divorced his wife and married Alina Kabaeva, a former Olympic gymnast and lawmaker with the ruling United Russia party. Putin reacted angrily to the report, and the paper was quickly shut down. Six years on, even with Putin a bachelor again, speculation still surrounds the exact nature of the relationship between the one of the world’s most powerful men and the 30-year-old athlete renowned for her “flexibility and agility.”
The Kremlin denied last year that the two had secretly wed. It also scoffed at rumors that Kabaeva has borne Putin a son. “I would find it difficult to answer any question about his private life,” Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said last year. “He works so much.”
Kabaeva is also staying tight-lipped. “I’m fed up of this topic,” she said in a magazine interview last year. “If there is a relationship between us, only our descendants will find out about this—in 50 years or so time.”
The Minor Putins
Besides the main players in the Putin clan, there are also a number of relatives with walk-on roles. These include Lyudmila Shelmova, Putin’s cousin on his mother’s side of the family. In a 2006 interview, Lyudmila revealed—among other fascinating tidbits—that Putin “likes to feed sugar to horses.”
Shelmova’s son, Mikhail Shelemov, is another obscure Putin family member, albeit a wealthy one. His company, Aktsept, controls over 12% of Sogaz, Russia’s biggest insurance company, and 4% of Bank Rossiya, known for its ties to the Kremlin.
Then there’s Vera Putina, a 30-year-old municipal councillor in St. Petersburg and Putin’s first-cousin-once-removed. Last month, in response to the Kremlin’s annexation of Crimea, she exclaimed on Twitter, “Russia is a great country!” Especially if you’re related to the man who has ruled Russia since the dawn of the 21st century.