Who are the daughters of Vladimir Putin facing US sanctions?

The Guardian, 06.04.2022
Rupert Neate

Russian president has rarely spoken publicly about daughters Maria Vorontsova and Katerina Tikhonova

The identities of Putin’s daughters have never been confirmed by him or the Kremlin and no photographs of them as adults have ever been officially released. Even the number of children Putin has fathered is subject to intense speculation.

Officially, Putin has two children, Maria and Katerina, from his marriage to Lyudmila Putina, a former Aeroflot steward whom he divorced in 2013, becoming the first Russian leader to divorce since Peter the Great in 1698.

Putin, who has very rarely spoken publicly about his children, responded to questions at his annual press conference in 2015, saying his daughters had not fled the country, as had been speculated.

They live in Russia. They have never been educated anywhere except Russia. I am proud of them; they continue to study and are working,” he said. “My daughters speak three European languages fluently. I never discuss my family with anyone». “They have never been ‘star’ children, they have never got pleasure from the spotlight being directed on them. They just live their own lives.”

Putin said his daughters were “taking the first steps in their careers”, and were “not involved in business or politics”. However, both daughters have since launched business ventures.

Katerina Tikhonova, 35, the younger daughter, was born in Dresden in 1986 while Putin was working as a KGB spy. Tikhonova, who uses the surname of her maternal grandmother, studied at St Petersburg State University and Moscow State University and has a master’s degree in physics and mathematics.

As well as studying, Tikhonova has a passion for Japanese culture and acrobatic rock’n’roll dancing, an athletic form of boogie-woogie. In 2013 she and her dance partner came fifth in the world championships in Switzerland.

It was footage from her dance competitions, compared with pictures from the website of Moscow State University, where she works, that helped to first establish that Tikhonova was Putin’s daughter in 2015.

Tikhonova married Kirill Shamalov, the younger son of Nikolai Shamalov, a close confidant of Putin and co-owner of Rossiya Bank, which the US government has described as “the personal bank” of top Kremlin officials. Kirill was appointed Gazprom’s chief legal counsel for foreign economic activity in 2002, when he was just 20.

The couple were married at a secret three-day ceremony at the exclusive Igora ski resort in 2013, before photos of the event leaked. They divorced in 2018, but details of any financial settlement have not been made public.

Less than two years after the wedding, Shamalov was named by Forbes magazine as one of Russia’s youngest billionaires after acquiring a 17% stake in petrochemicals company Sibur from Gennady Timchenko, a Putin ally who was later hit by sanctions. An investigation by Reuters in 2015 estimated that the couple had corporate holdings worth more than $2bn, as well as a luxury £4m beachfront villa in the French resort of Biarritz.

The eight-bedroom Alta Mira villa in the Atlantic resort was last month broken into by anti-Putin protesters, who posted a video on social media declaring: “This house was bought with the money stolen by Putin and the Russian mafia.

They said: “Instead of a luxurious retreat for the oligarchs Putin-Shamalov, we decided to organise a place here for rehabilitation and life for the victims of the Putin regime, especially refugees from Ukraine and Russia who have been forced to flee from war, repression and torture prisons. The time when dictators and oligarchs could rob their own countries and live carelessly in villas in Europe is past.”

Tikhonova worked in various roles at Moscow State University before, in 2020, she was appointed the head of a new $1.7bn “artificial intelligence issues and intellectual systems” institute at the university. Putin has previously described the Innopraktika center as “one of the most essential tools in the national strategy of developing AI technology”.

Her official advisers at the university have included five members of Putin’s inner circle, including two former KGB officers who lived in the same block of flats in which she grew up in Dresden.

Putin’s elder daughter, Maria Vorontsova, 36, is a paediatric endocrinologist, studying the effects of hormones on the body. In 2019 Vorontsova, who lives in a penthouse apartment opposite the US embassy in Moscow, gave an interview on Russian state TV revealing plans for a £500m medical venture aimed at helping to cure cancer.

Vorontsova married the Dutch businessman Jorrit Faassen, and the couple lived in the penthouse of an exclusive apartment building in Voorschoten, near the Hague. In 2014 some Dutch neighbours called for her to be expelled from the country after the downing of MH17 by pro-Russia forces over Ukraine.

Recently a group of Amsterdammers appealed to Vorontsova to plead with her father to end the invasion of Ukraine. A sign placed on land owned by the couple reads: “Less than 2,000km from your peaceful piece of free land, your father is decimating an entire free country and its people. It seems your old man is hard to reach and clearly impossible to stop by even his hangmen. But as we all know, fathers and daughters are a different story.”

Speculation is rife in Russia that Putin has a third, even more secret, daughter from a years-long affair with Svetlana Krivonogikh, a Russian woman who reportedly grew up in an overcrowded St Petersburg apartment and worked as a cleaner.

The Pandora Papers revealed that Krivonogikh, 46, became the owner of the apartment in Monaco through an offshore company that was reportedly created just weeks after she gave birth to a girl, Luzia.

The Kremlin has dismissed the suggestion that Luiza is the president’s daughter. Putin has previously said: “I have a private life in which I do not permit interference. It must be respected.”

This article was amended on 7 April 2022. An earlier version incorrectly referred to Maria Vorontsova’s husband Jorrit Faassen as “Russian-born” (he was born in the Netherlands), and said the couple previously lived in a penthouse apartment in Amsterdam; that apartment was in the village of Voorschoten.

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