Who Is Alina Kabaeva, Former Olympic Gymnast Believed to Be Vladimir Putin's Girlfriend?

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Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) shakes hands with famous Russian gymnasts Alina Kabayeva (C) and Svetlana Khorkina (L) during the meeting with sportsmen, candidates to Russian Olympic team for Olympics 2004, in the presidential residence in Novo-Ogaryovo outside Moscow, 10 March 2004. Vladimir Putin said Russian business is ready to support Russian sportsmen. AFP PHOTO / POOL (Photo credit should read SERGEI CHIRIKOV/AFP via Getty Images)
Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) shakes hands with famous Russian gymnasts Alina Kabayeva (C) and Svetlana Khorkina (L) during the meeting with sportsmen, candidates to Russian Olympic team for Olympics 2004, in the presidential residence in Novo-Ogaryovo outside Moscow, 10 March 2004. Vladimir Putin said Russian business is ready to support Russian sportsmen. AFP PHOTO / POOL (Photo credit should read SERGEI CHIRIKOV/AFP via Getty Images)

SERGEI CHIRIKOV/AFP via Getty Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) shakes hands with famous Russian gymnasts Alina Kabayeva (C) and Svetlana Khorkina (L)

Russian President Vladimir Putin's personal life is shrouded in mystery. And that's by design. But a recent tranche of U.S. and U.K. sanctions puts the spotlight on one person who many experts believe is a key part of the autocrat's inner circle: his alleged girlfriend, former Olympic gymnast Alina Kabaeva.

Earlier this week, Kabaeva, 39, was among the latest Russian figures to be subject to economic retaliation from the U.S. amid Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

In a statement issued Tuesday, the U.S. Treasury Department described Kabaeva as "a former member of the State Duma," saying she had been designated for economic sanction due to "having been a leader, official, senior executive officer, or member of the board of directors of the Government of the Russian Federation."

The department described Kabaeva as having "a close relationship to Putin" and being "the current head of the National Media Group, a pro-Kremlin empire of television, radio, and print organizations."

RELATED: Swiss Chalets, Russian Fairy Tales and Suspected Riches: Why (and How) Putin Is So Mysterious About His Life

Russian President Vladimir Putin (C), his wife Ludmila (R) and daughter Maria (2ndL)
Russian President Vladimir Putin (C), his wife Ludmila (R) and daughter Maria (2ndL)

ALEXANDER NEMENOV/AFP via Getty From left, front: Vladimir Putin's daughter Maria with him and mother Ludmila in 2007

The U.S. also noted that Kabaeva has been sanctioned by other parts of the world, including the U.K. and the EU, which announced travel and asset restrictions against her earlier this year.

What the statement left out is that Kabaeva is 69-year-old Putin's rumored girlfriend, with some reports even suggesting that the two are engaged and have children together.

Putin is infamously tight-lipped about his personal life, and since he controls both the military and the state-run press, many of those details are near-impossible to nail down.

The Kremlin has confirmed a few things, including that Putin, a former agent in the KGB, married Lyudmila Shkrebneva in 1983 and that the couple had two daughters: Mariya and Yekaterina, also known as Masha and Katya.

RELATED: Vladimir Putin's Rumored Girlfriend, Former Olympic Gymnast Alina Kabaeva, Sanctioned by U.S.

But in 2008, a Russian news outlet reported that Putin, then 56, had divorced Shkrebneva and gotten engaged to a 24-year-old Olympic gold medal-winning rhythmic gymnast named Alina Kabaeva (who was stripped of some of her medals after testing positive for a banned substance in 2002).

That story was promptly denied by Putin who told reporters, per The New York Times: "I have always disliked those who, with their infected noses and erotic fantasies, break into other people's private affairs."

The newspaper that reported the story, meanwhile, mysteriously shut down shortly thereafter, according to the Times.

Five years later, in 2013, the Kremlin finally confirmed that Putin and his first wife had divorced.

Meanwhile, the speculation regarding his relationship with Kabaeva persisted.

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Following Russia's invasion of Ukraine in late February, there have been reports that she allegedly went into hiding, along with their rumored children, in a highly secure Swiss chalet.

She has made at least one public appearance since, though — at an April gymnastics exhibition in Moscow, where she delivered remarks in front of a backdrop comprised of "Zs," which has become a symbol of support among some for the Russian invasion.

Putin, meanwhile, has made no comments on his alleged romance or on the children he is speculated to have had with either Kabaeva or another woman.

The Russian attack on Ukraine is an evolving story, with information changing quickly. Follow PEOPLE's complete coverage of the war here, including stories from citizens on the ground and ways to help.

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