The U.S. announcement Tuesday cited Kabaeva’s “close relationship to Putin,” though it did not point to a romantic tie specifically. But the U.S. government holds that Kabaeva is the mother of at least three of Putin’s children, the Wall Street Journal reported, and had previously prepared a sanctions package against her before making a last-minute decision in late April to hold off, to avoid hurting prospects for a negotiated peace in Ukraine.
Kabaeva has also served as a lawmaker for Putin’s party in the State Duma and currently heads the pro-Kremlin National Media Group, which operates a network of TV and radio stations and publishes newspapers in Russia. Kabaeva was already under E.U. and U.K. sanctions.
“As innocent people suffer from Russia’s illegal war of aggression, Putin’s allies have enriched themselves and funded opulent lifestyles,” Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen said in a news release. “The Treasury Department will use every tool at our disposal to make sure that Russian elites and the Kremlin’s enablers are held accountable for their complicity in a war that has cost countless lives.”
Kabaeva, who was born in Uzbekistan in 1983, rose to prominence in Russia as one of rhythmic gymnastics’ most decorated athletes. Her athletic career was not without controversy, though — she had to return two medals from the 2001 Goodwill Games after a doping scandal.
Kabaeva retired from the sport around the same time reports emerged that she was romantically linked with Putin.
The Kremlin has denied the alleged relationship. A Russian newspaper that published an article in 2008 saying Putin and Kabaeva were romantically involved was quickly shut down under mysterious circumstances.
Putin and his wife of 30 years, Lyudmila Putina, divorced in 2014.
Kabaeva and her family have benefitted handsomely from connections to Putin’s circle, according to Russian and U.S. media reports. A classified U.S. intelligence assessment of alleged Russian interference in the 2016 election listed Kabaeva as a beneficiary of Putin’s wealth, the Journal reported in April, citing a U.S. official.
The luxurious lifestyles of Putin’s reported girlfriends have fueled speculation about their relationships with the Russian president. The Pandora Papers, a trove of documents revealed by The Washington Post and a consortium of news organizations last year, showed that another woman who was reportedly romantically involved with Putin owned a fancy apartment in Monaco and a shell company in the British Virgin Islands — even as it was unclear how she had amassed so much wealth.
Kabaeva was spotted publicly for the first time in months in late April, when she led her annual “Alina Festival,” a patriotic rhythmic gymnastics festival in Moscow. She stood in front of a backdrop decorated with the letter “Z,” the state’s symbol for its invasion of Ukraine.
The United States previously imposed sanctions on Putin’s daughters from a former marriage, Katerina Tikhonova and Maria Voronstsova, after evidence emerged of alleged war crimes committed by Russian forces during their occupation of the suburbs of Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital. The atrocities included the beheading and torture of civilians.
The latest sanctions are aimed at Russian elites and businesses operating in sectors “that generate substantial revenue for the Russian regime,” the announcement said.
In addition to Kabaeva, they include Andrey Grigoryevich Guryev, founder of a Russian chemical company and owner of London’s second-largest estate after Buckingham Palace, and Viktor Filippovich Rashnikov, the majority owner and board chair of MMK, one of the world’s largest steel producers. Two MMK subsidiaries were also placed under sanctions.
The sanctions freeze the U.S. property of those targeted and ban U.S. individuals or entities from transacting with them.
The State Department, meanwhile, announced new sanctions on three Russian oligarchs and Kremlin-backed officials in areas of Ukraine occupied by Russian or proxy forces, including Mariupol and Kherson. The sanctions also target 24 Russian defense and technology-related entities, including research centers.
“Our actions target some of Russia’s most important defense-related research and development institutions, semiconductor producers, and advanced computing and electronics entities,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement. “These actions will further isolate Russia’s defense and high-technology industries and limit their contributions to Moscow’s war machine.”
The department also imposed visa restrictions on nearly 900 Russian officials, as well as “31 foreign government officials who have acted to support Russia’s purported annexation of the Crimea region of Ukraine and thereby threatened or violated Ukraine’s sovereignty.”
Canada also unveiled a new round of sanctions Tuesday, targeting 43 military officials and 17 entities “that are complicit in Russian President Vladimir Putin’s senseless bloodshed” including atrocities in the Kyiv suburb of Bucha, according to the announcement from Global Affairs Canada.