Alina Kabaeva, an Olympic gold medal-winning gymnast rumored to be the longtime girlfriend of Vladimir Putin, was nearly the subject of sanctions by the U.S. until it was decided it would be “so personal a blow to Mr. Putin that it could further escalate tensions between Russia and the U.S.”

Kabaeva, or the “Secret First Lady,” as she is allegedly called in Russian tabloids, was first linked to Putin in 2008. A report by the newspaper Moskovsky Korrespondent claimed Putin was divorcing his wife Lyudmila Putin to be with Kabaeva, and Putin had the paper shut down days later.

Putin has never confirmed the relationship, but he and Lyudmila separated in 2014. It’s also rumored that Kabaeva is the mother of at least three of Putin’s children.

Calls to sanction Kabaeva apparently came from Republicans after the White House announced sanctions against Putin’s daughtersKaterina Tikhonova and Maria Vorontsova. Others, including activist Georgy Alburov who is an ally of Alexei Navalny, referred to Kabaev as a “major Russian propagandist,” and heavily criticized the call not to sanction her.

Kabaeva is thought to have a hand in how Putin hides his immense wealth figures by concealing it in accounts abroad. It’s also believed that she lives primarily in Switzerland, and it was reported by Page Six that Kabaeva has spent much of the Ukraine invasion in Switzerland with her and Putin’s young children.

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During her athletic career, Kabaeva was nicknamed “Russia’s most flexible woman,” and is one of the most decorated athletes in all of rhythmic gymnastics. Along with her two Olympic gold medals, she won 14 World Championship Medals and 21 European Championship medals before her retirement from the sport in 2007.

Kabaeva then served as a member of parliament under the pro-Putin United Russia party from 2007 until 2014. After that stint, Kabaeva moved onto the National Media Group, where she has been assisting in disseminating pro-Kremlin propaganda ever since.

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