OCCRP Partner: Putin’s Alleged Girlfriend Owns Largest Flat in Russia

Published: 28 February 2023

Putin Loves Kabaeva

Russian President Vladimir Putin and former Olympic gymnast Alina Kabaeva. (Photo: President of Russia, License)

By Mikhail Maglov, Roman Badanin, Mikhail Rubin and others at The Project

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s reputed girlfriend, former Olympic gymnast Alina Kabaeva, has enjoyed the use of "the largest apartment in Russia'' since 2011 — a 2,600 square meter penthouse with 20 rooms in Sochi. Another three flats in the Black Sea resort were registered in the name of her grandma, according to a new investigation by The Project.

But the apartment with a swimming pool, a movie theater, a patio and its own helipad on the roof is not Kabaeva’s year-around residence.

The Project’s research into Kabaeva’s real estate also led journalists to five assistants who followed her everywhere, including on trips by a secretive railroad built specially for Vladimir Putin to his private residence in Valdai, a region noted for its rolling hills and lakes located halfway between St. Petersburg and Moscow.

But back to Sochi.

Reporters found that in 2011, longtime Putin ally Oleg Rudnov purchased a massive penthouse at the city’s Royal Park residential complex. According to a 2009 advertising leaflet from the developer, the price of the penthouse was US$15 million, although it was purchased by Rudnov two years later for only 90 million rubles (US$3.2 million at the time), or roughly a fifth of the stated price.

Previously, OCCRP partner The Project reported that Rudnov has handled real estate transactions for one of Putin’s former mistresses, Svetlana Krivonogikh, whom he allegedly dated while he was still married to Lyudmila Putina.

In 2008, Rudnov transferred a 200-meter apartment near Palace Square in the center of St. Petersburg to Krinovogikh, and in 2021, after Oleg’s passing, his son Sergei Rudnov registered an apartment in Sochi intended for Krivonogikh's mother Nadezhda, in his own name.

According to sources who spoke to The Project as part of their latest investigation, Oleg Rudnov purchased the penthouse in Sochi for former gymnast and MP Alina Kabaeva, who has long been rumored to be Vladimir Putin’s lover and the mother of some of his children. The sources told The Project that Kabaeva traveled to Sochi and personally chose the apartment, indicating Rudnov as the person whose name it should be registered under.

In addition to the penthouse, three other apartments in Sochi were registered the same year — 2011 — in the name of Anna Zatsepilina, Kabaeva's grandmother. The real estate registered in Zatsepilina’s name is worth about 1.1 billion rubles, The Project estimates, or $14.7 million at today’s exchange rates. Journalists were able to verify that she actually lives in the small village of Nikologory in Vladimir Oblast, but Kabaeva’s associates "took her to the city for the winter."

The money to purchase the penthouse was deposited in cash into Rudnov’s personal account with the help of Cypriot company Ermira Consultants. Officially owned by Russian lawyer Vladislav Kopylov, sources told The Project that Putin is the real owner, and that his close associates use the term “Ermira” to refer to a “common fund” of money intended for the Russian president.

The Project has detailed a web of financial and business dealings tying Ermira Consultants to Putin.

The Cypriot company keeps its accounts at two banks closely connected to the president and his circle — Rossiya Bank, whose shareholders included Svetlana Krivonogikh, and oligarch Arkady Rotenberg's SMP Bank.

In 2014, the rights to the vodka brand Putinka — to which Putin had personally given his blessing when it was created, and from which he received a cut — were transferred to Real-Invest, a Russian subsidiary of Ermira Consultants. According to The Project's estimates, between 2004 and 2019, between $400 million and $500 million could have been earned on the production, royalties, and sale of drinks under the Putinka brand. At the beginning of 2015, the minimum retail price of vodka, which is set by the state, was reduced for the first time, a decision which would primarily benefit manufacturers of cheap vodkas, including Putinka, writes The Project.

No later than 2009, Ermira began transferring money for Putin’s palace in Gelendzhik, another resort town on the Black Sea. In 2009-2010, it issued US$100 million in loans to the Russian company Rirus, which oversaw the construction. Rirus was co-owned by Nikolai Shalamov, a former in-law of Putin and a shareholder in Rossiya Bank, and Dmitry Gorelov, another co-owner of Rossiya Bank.

Ermira also owned a Russian subsidiary construction company, Platinum, which it transferred to Putin’s nephew Mikhail Shelomov in 2009. Platinum’s book value as of late 2021 was over US$230 million at the current exchange rate.

Kabaeva May Live in Putin’s Residence With Her (And Presumably His) Kids

OCCRP and Meduza had earlier identified LLCInvest.ru, a group of interconnected companies that hold palaces, resorts, yachts, jets, and bank accounts full of cash for Putin.

In the course of their latest investigation, The Project managed to find the exact location, and even obtain photos, of Putin’s lavish private residence in Valdai, where Kabaeva seems to be spending most of the time with her children.

The Project discovered that she has five close assistants, two of whom are her cousins, who accompany her everywhere. In a leaked database of train ticket reservations, journalists found that Kabaeva’s assistants repeatedly acquired tickets to destinations in Valdai called Okulovka and Uglovka — stations which are closed to ordinary citizens.

The Project had previously reported on the multiple secret railroads in Russia which serve Putin and his closest circle, including lines to Valdai and Sochi, hidden in some places from public view by high fences.

The Project spoke to one of the executives in charge of the construction of Putin's Valdai residence until 2005, when the main work was completed, and who provided photos of the luxurious interiors. The source recalled that Putin demanded that his residence should look "like St. Petersburg" and "like the Hermitage."

The travel itineraries of Alina Kabaeva’s assistants suggest that Kabaeva herself may live in Putin’s Valdai residence with her children, whose father is believed to be the president himself.

The presence of small children at the residence is confirmed by one of The Project's sources familiar with the operation of the Valdai facility, and supported by open-source data. In particular, in the summers of 2020 and 2021, a small go-kart track was set up on the site of former helipads, which journalists were able to confirm in satellite imagery. In addition, a large children's playground in yellow and blue was erected next to the residence between 2016 and 2020.

According to the source, in 2020, Putin ordered the building of a new mansion for Kabaeva and her children next to the main residence.

A previous investigation by Russian outlet RBC had revealed that, apart from Putin’s official residency there was an entire VIP settlement where people from Putin’s security service and the Directorate of Affairs have bought homes. Some land plots have been registered under the names of shell corporations affiliated with Putin. For example, the largest plot in the area is registered to LLC Prime, controlled by the president’s associate Yury Kovalchuk.