Russian President Vladimir Putin’s rumored mistress, Alina Kabaeva, was hit by U.K. sanctions on Friday over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The British Foreign Office announced a fresh wave of sanctions aimed at Putin’s inner circle. The list targets his family and friends, including his former wife and cousins, and Kabaeva, a 39-year-old former Olympic gymnast who has been romantically linked to the Russian leader.
Travel bans and asset freezes will be imposed on Kabaeva and her grandmother Anna Zatseplina, and Lyudmila Ocheretnaya, Putin’s former wife.
“We are exposing and targeting the shady network propping up Putin’s luxury lifestyle and tightening the vice on his inner circle,” Liz Truss, the British foreign secretary, said in a statement. “We will keep going with sanctions on all those aiding and abetting Putin’s aggression until Ukraine prevails.”
Putin has denied being romantically involved with Kabaeva. The former gymnast has also declined to confirm rumors that she is or has been in a relationship with the Russian leader.
The British government said Kabaeva allegedly has “a close personal relationship” with Putin, and previously sat as a deputy in the Duma for Putin’s United Russia party.
The U.K.’s sanctions list notes that Kabaeva is the chair of the board of directors of National Media Group (NMG), which it describes as “actively promoting Russian propaganda” regarding the invasion of Ukraine, which Putin launched on February 24.
NMG, founded in 2008, describes itself as the largest Russian private media holding company. It owns and operates a network of state-controlled television and radio stations, including Channel 1, and publishes newspapers.
“Accordingly, Kabaeva is involved in destabilizing Ukraine as she herself or through her association with NMG is responsible for, engages in, provides support for, or promotes any policy or action which destabilizes Ukraine or undermines or threatens the territorial integrity, sovereignty, or independence of Ukraine,” the British foreign office said.
The Biden administration has held off on sanctioning the 39-year-old for fear of escalating tensions between Moscow and Washington, the Wall Street Journal reported.
Last month, Kabaeva was pictured in public for the first time since Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine. She made a rare public appearance when she attended the first rehearsal of a junior rhythmic gymnastics festival at Moscow’s VTB Arena on April 21.
The former gymnast has two Olympic medals, 14 World Championship medals and 21 European Championship medals.
Rumors that Kabaeva and Putin are romantically linked have circulated for years.
Russian newspaper the Moskovsky Korrespondent was shut down in 2008 shortly after the outlet reported that Putin had plans to divorce his former wife Lyudmila for Kabaeva.
Responding to newspaper reports in 2008, Putin said: “I have always disliked those who, with their snotty noses and erotic fantasies, break into other people’s private affairs.”
Newsweek has contacted Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs for comment.
Update: 05/13/22, 8:30 a.m. EDT: This article was updated with additional details, quotes, and background information.