Putin’s Daughter in Relationship with Ex-Head of Bavarian State Ballet, New Investigation Reveals

Published: 19 May 2022

During his more than 20 years in power, Russian President Vladimir Putin has kept his family a closely guarded secret. Relatively little is known about his two adult daughters, who do not bear his surname.

GHH5DX1Igor Zelensky in 2016 (Photo: dpa picture alliance / Alamy Stock Photo)


Now a new investigation has revealed that Putin’s younger daughter, Katerina Tikhonova, is in a previously unreported long-term relationship with Igor Zelensky, a Russian dancer who formerly directed the Bavarian State Ballet in Munich.

Published today by OCCRP’s Russian partner IStories and German news magazine Der Spiegel, the investigation also found that Tikhonova and Zelensky appear to have a child together.

Zelensky, 52, danced leading roles at the Mariinsky Theater in St. Petersburg, was a principal dancer with the New York City Ballet, and performed as a guest soloist on many other world stages. He took up the prestigious position with the Bavarian Ballet in 2016 and appears to have lived in Germany ever since. Last year, he even contributed a column to Süddeutsche Zeitung describing his weekly routine in Munich, including running in the English Garden and buying fresh produce at a famous food market.

Zelensky stepped down from his leadership role “for family reasons” last month amid rising scrutiny of his associations with Putin and criticism of his failure to condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. (Despite sharing a surname, he is not related to the Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who is currently leading his country’s defense.)

His relationship with Putin’s daughter was not publicly known.

Tikhonova is best known for her participation in a competitive form of partner dance called acrobatic rock’n’roll and for her past marriage to Kirill Shamalov, the son of a longtime friend of Putin. In a previous investigation, iStories and OCCRP uncovered the phenomenally lucrative investment opportunities Shamalov received after marrying her.

The couple had separated by 2017, according to a leak of Shamalov’s emails on which that investigation was based.

Reporters were able to identify Zelensky as Tikhonova’s new partner after they received another set of leaked emails that belonged to one of her bodyguards.

Among the attached documents were scanned copies of both Zelensky and Tikhonova’s passports, as well as the passport of a girl born in 2017 who, judging by her patronymic, appears to be the couple’s daughter.

Reporters confirmed Zelensky and Tikhonova’s relationship through several other independent sources:

  • A source at Moscow’s Vnukovo airport provided a list of passengers from a December 2019 charter flight that landed in the VIP terminal. They were: Tikhonova, Zelensky, their daughter, a piano teacher, two nannies, and three employees of the presidential security service.
  • Data on Tikhonova’s flights between 2017 and 2019 show her regularly traveling between Moscow and Munich, where Zelensky had taken up residence with the Bavarian Ballet.
  • A source in the Bavarian Ballet told reporters from Der Spiegel that Tikhonova and Zelensky are most likely a couple.

It is possible that Tikhonova has since moved to Germany to be with her partner. Among the emails received by her bodyguard was one, sent in late October 2019, that had the subject line “Moving to Germany” and contained instructions from an international moving company about how to submit descriptions of valuable items to be moved.

Journalists were unable to reach Tikhonova or Zelensky for comment. When reporters from Der Spiegel went to his registered address in Munich, they were met by his ex-wife, former Mariinsky Ballet dancer Yana Serebryakova. She declined to comment.