“She’s become a ghost.” Céline Nony, former gymnast and Russian speaker, investigated one of the biggest state secrets: the love affair between former Olympic gymnastics champion Alina Kabaeva and Vladimir Putin.
If Vladimir Putin remains an enigma, there’s an even more mysterious subject: his love life. An absolute taboo, summed up by his motto, “the private sphere blurs the political message”.
This is why the book published by Céline Nony, a senior reporter with “L’Équipe”, on the Kremlin leader’s hidden companion, is such a bombshell. The journalist, who has lived and worked in Russia, is also a former GRS international. This is where she first came across Olympic champion Alina Kabaeva. A providential observation post, since a few years later, the young girl, Uzbek by her mother, Tatar by her father, entered the life of the Russian president. A sporting, political and sentimental destiny, recounted in “Alina, Putin’s secret love”. Interview with an author who, out of caution, won’t be setting foot in Russia anytime soon.
How did you manage to investigate such a taboo subject?
It wasn’t easy! Especially as the war in Ukraine closed borders, and most of my Russian contacts refused to testify for fear of reprisals.
But I had followed all the career Alina. Notamment en 1998, en tant qu’envoyée spéciale à Porto pour couvrir les JO. I had the opportunity to interview her, attend her training sessions and meet those close to her. Until 2007, the end of his career sports, she was very accessible. It’s a solar girl, smiling, very serviceable.
When she between political, it becomes more complicated. The real turning point came in 2008, when this alleged relationship was revealed in “Moskovski Korrespondent”.
The second turning point came in 2014, when she cut short her second term in the Duma and was appointed head of NMG (National Media Group), the media consortium where she has no legitimacy. Its piston then no more doubt.
Finally, he had JO d’hiver à Sotchi. The public thought that Vladimir Putin, divorced in 2013, would make their relationship official. This did not happen. After this event, she no longer existed at all on the national stage, becoming a ghost. Her only public appearances were limited to the festival she launched in aid of a charitable foundation. And they’ve never been seen together again in public.
Why such secrecy surrounding this relationship?
Putin has always kept his public and personal life separate. In fact, his first wife never appeared on official trips, or kept a low profile. What’s more, his election was supported by the Orthodox Church, and he presented himself as the savior of a homeland damaged by the excesses of Boris Yeltsin.
The story still has many mysteries to unravel, such as their shared children and where they lived. In the end, there are still many unanswered questions…
Yes, and I don’t know if we’ll ever find out. Alina had several children, her second was born in Switzerland in 2015, and then in 2019 she had a third, or twins. The question of children, their sex, their first names, is an absolute state secret for Putin. In fact, none of them, not even his two daughters from his marriage to Ludmila, bear his father’s name.
As for housing, for years Alina Kabaeva lived in the various properties made available by Putin’s oligarch friends. Since the war in Ukraine, she has had to live in Russia, as she is subject to international sanctions due to her closeness to Putin. She navigates between a gigantic apartment in the seaside resort of Sochi, and a house built for her within the presidential residence. There have been rumors that she lives in Switzerland, recluse in a chalet, or in an underground city dug beneath the Altai mountains. The life of this former gymnast is utterly romantic, and inevitably feeds fantasies.
Her house in the presidential residence? So this affair is an open secret!
Yes, so much so that any request for an interview with Alina Kabaeva has to be addressed… to the Kremlin!
The book is also an astonishing portrayal of Russian sport and the system…
Yes, what interested me was also to show the mix of genres that reigns in the country: the communion of sport, with the money of the oligarchs, politics and power. To restore public confidence in politics, at the start of his first term in office, Putin brought into power the country’s sports heroes, cosmonauts, prima ballerinas and gymnasts like Alina Kabaeva. Even if she wasn’t very committed…