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Britain slaps sanctions on Putin's rumored girlfriend and his ex-wife

Effectiveness of sanctions against Russia
How effective have sanctions been against Russia? 04:26

Britain on Friday sanctioned 12 members of Russian President Vladimir Putin's "inner circle," accusing them of hiding his ill-gotten riches in return for influential state positions.

They included his ex-wife Lyudmila Ocheretnaya and his rumored girlfriend, Alina Kabaeva, a 38-year-old former Olympic gymnast.

The U.K. government said she was "alleged to have a close personal relationship with Putin."

"We are exposing and targeting the shady network propping up Putin's luxury lifestyle, and tightening the vice on his inner circle," Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said in a statement.

"We will keep going with sanctions on all those aiding and abetting Putin's aggression until Ukraine prevails," she said.

The Kremlin leader's modest state salary and officially declared assets are belied by reports linking him to a luxury yacht and a sprawling property dubbed "Putin's Palace," the U.K. said.

His true wealth is hidden by a network of family, childhood friends and selected members of the Russian elite who've been appointed to powerful roles "in return for their undying loyalty."

Others sanctioned Friday included cousins of Putin and Alexander Plekhov, a "close friend" who controls the Vital Development Corp.

Britain said it had now sanctioned more than 1,000 individuals and 100 Russian entities, including oligarchs worth more than $140 billion, since Putin ordered the invasion of Ukraine in late February.

Russia Kabayeva
November 2004 photo shows Russian President Vladimir Putin speaking with Alina Kabaeva at a Kremlin banquet in Moscow. ITAR-TASS/AP

The Wall Street Journal reported late last month that U.S. officials were holding off on sanctioning Kabaeva because the measure was seen as too drastic.

The newspaper cited unnamed officials as saying the 2016 investigation into Russia's interference in U.S. presidential elections revealed that Kabaeva had benefited from Putin's influence and personal wealth. The U.S. government suspected Kabaeva of concealing some of that wealth abroad, the Journal reported, adding that American officials also believe her to be the mother of at least three of Putin's children.

Possible sanctions against Kabaeva were eventually halted, however, since the step was considered "so personal a blow to Mr. Putin that it could further escalate tensions between Russia and the U.S.," the Journal wrote.

Rumors have circulated for years about Kabaeva's personal relationship with the Russian leader. Russian tabloids have dubbed her "Russia's First Mistress" and even the "Secret First Lady."

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