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Vladimir Putin’s gold-medal winning “lover” has made a rare public appearance in a patriotic gymnastics ballet festival designed to drum up support for the bonkers Russian president.
Alina Kabaeva, 38, sparked rumours she was hiding in a Swiss chalet or Siberian nuclear bunker as she was nowhere to be seen since her country’s invasion of Ukraine.
But she appeared in videos taken at the extravagant display, which included a uniformed military choir and Soviet Union songs in a celebration of the country’s historic victory over the Nazis.
The eerie ‘Z’ symbol invented for the Ukraine war – which critics have compared to a Russian swastika – can also be seen at the event.
In a move unmistakably intended to boost patriotic support for Putin’s military moves, Kabaeva said: “This celebration is not just for the whole country, this is a holiday for every family.
“Every family has a war story, and we mustn’t ever forget it, but pass it on, from generation to generation.”
Putin, 69, is expected to use the 9 May Victory Day to push propaganda from his war in Ukraine, despite a huge Russian death toll that may now exceed 30,000.
The Russian media obsessed over Kabaeva’s new-look since she appeared for the first time since December.
Commentator Moskovsky Komsomolets said of a woman seen as their unofficial first lady: “Alina Kabaeva is in great shape.
“She held the traditional Alina festival of rhythmic gymnastics. There is a St. George ribbon on the dress.
“Kabaeva entered the stage to the song Victory Day – and the festival was dedicated to it.”
Russian Cosmopolitan wrote “something has really changed in Kabaeva’s face”, adding that “the legendary athlete was noticeably prettier”.
Avoiding linking her to Putin, it said of a woman widely believed to be Russia’s unofficial first lady: “Alina Kabaeva is one of the most mysterious and secretive women in our country.
“The gymnast almost never appears in public, does not [appear in] social networks, and it is not possible to accidentally see her on the street or in shopping centres.”
In her only statement on the war, Kabaeva slammed the refusal to allow the Russian team to compete at the Beijing Paralympics.
“There has never been a more shameful page in the history of world sports,” she said.
“Russia was, is and will be a great sports power – and you can't do anything about it."
Unlike two of Putin’s adult daughters – Maria and Katerina – media mogul Kabaeva, who controls a significant segment of the pro-Kremlin Moscow media, has avoided Western sanctions.
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Rumours first linked her romantically to Putin as long ago as 2008 when she was a pro-Kremlin MP but the paper that printed the story was rapidly closed down.
Putin – who in 2013 announced his divorce from wife Lyudmila, a former Aeroflot stewardess – has previously said: "I have a private life in which I do not permit interference. It must be respected.”
He added he hated "those who with their snotty noses and erotic fantasies prowl into others' lives”.
- Vladimir Putin
- Russia Ukraine war
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