Britain is the first country to impose sanctions on the 39-year-old Kabaeva, an Olympic champion in rhythmic gymnastics and past cover model for the Russian edition of Vogue magazine. Putin is 69 years old.
Kabaeva rose to become chair of the board of the National Media Group, reportedly the largest private Russian media company and an outlet for pro-war propaganda, officials said.
“She is alleged to have a close personal relationship with Putin, and previously sat as a Deputy in the Duma for Putin’s United Russia,” the British Foreign Office said in a statement.
The British officials who briefed reporters said these friends and family members were not especially skilled at their jobs but “engineered into positions” to help Putin, suggesting they were well-paid helpers “who lurk in the shadows.”
The Kremlin has long denied a romantic relationship between Putin and Kabaeva. A Russian newspaper that published a report in 2008 linking the two was mysteriously shut down soon after, although various reports have suggested that she is the mother of several of his children.
Kabaeva appears to have ended her athletic career around the time she was romantically linked with Putin. She later became a lawmaker with Putin’s ruling United Russia party and was one of six torch bearers during the Opening Ceremonies for the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics.
According to an April report by the Wall Street Journal, the Biden administration debated placing sanctions on Kabaeva but at the “last minute” decided against it, concerned that such a move would further escalate tensions between Russia and the United States.
Putin has not acknowledged a relationship with Kabaeva, but British officials said measures have been taken since the start of the Ukraine war to keep her out of the public eye, such as removing her name from Russian business websites.
The British sanctions list hit close to home for Putin. It includes Kabaeva’s grandmother, who the British government says owns a luxury apartment in Moscow, and the Russian president’s ex-wife, Lyudmila Ocheretnaya, former first lady of the Russian Federation.
Also included on the list are Igor Putin, the president’s first cousin; Mikhail Putin, a relative; and Roman Putin, a first cousin once removed.
Earlier, Britain and the United States issued sanctions on Putin’s daughters, Maria Vorontsova, 36, and Katerina Tikhonova, 35. They are his children with Ocheretnaya.
The British government described the individuals as “enablers.”
“We are exposing and targeting the shady network propping up Putin’s luxury lifestyle and tightening the vice on his inner circle,” U.K. Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said Friday in a statement.
Britain is leading the sanctions campaign, having targeted more than 1,000 individuals and 100 entities, including oligarchs worth $142 billion. U.K. officials said “tens of billions” of pounds in assets have been frozen in Britain.
Russia’s Foreign Ministry on Friday recommended its citizens refrain from traveling to the United Kingdom, warning visitors of the “extremely unfriendly course” that Britain has taken and saying it was best not to go, “to avoid financial losses and other possible problems.”
Bryan Pietsch in Seoul contributed to this report.