Feature

Russia: Putin, the womanizer in chief?

The glimpse of Lyudmila Putina at her husband’s presidential inauguration was only the third sighting in years.

Tony Halpin
The Times (U.K.)

Why is Russia’s First Lady almost never seen in public? asked Tony Halpin. The Russian rumor mill offers up plenty of possible explanations for why that tantalizing glimpse of Lyudmila Putina at her husband’s presidential inauguration this week was only the third sighting in years. Some say the former Aeroflot stewardess has been packed off to a convent, or close to it: They believe she is being kept in the luxurious mansion that Putin built on the grounds of a monastery near the Estonian border. The reason for her exile, the theory goes, is so Putin can continue his alleged affair with Olympic gymnast Alina Kabaeva, said to be the mother of his child. Putin first denied that rumor back in 2008, but his protestations were somewhat undercut by the setting: He was speaking from the villa of his good friend Silvio Berlusconi, the notoriously unfaithful former Italian prime minister. Like Berlusconi, who gave his mistresses party posts, Putin made Kabaeva a legislator in his party. Other Russians, meanwhile, claim that his “attentions have shifted to the spy turned lingerie model Anna Chapman.” If there is a mistress, though, don’t expect Putin to dump his estranged wife for her. “Russia is not France.” 

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