There’s an odd thing about 18-year old Luiza Rozova’s Instagram feed. You can see photos of her breakfasts (sliced exotic fruit on heart shaped plates); her bikini selfies and her smart Paris apartment; her new shoes and her trips to the Louvre (heavily masked). But you never see her face. Take a look at screen-grabs of her Insta feed before it was purged of all recognizable images and you realize why. Luiza — born Elizaveta Vladimirovna Krivonogykh — bears a striking resemblance to Vladimir Putin.
It’s the same story with her mother, Svetlana Krivonogykh. The blonde 46-year-old’s social media pages were once full of photos of Svetlana in a helicopter and of charming views over the Vieux Port of Monaco taken from the balcony of a waterfront apartment. All these disappeared last November soon after the Russian investigative website proekt.ru published a story alleging that Svetlana had been Putin’s mistress and bore him a love child — Elizaveta — in 2003. Krivonogikh worked as a cleaner in a Leningrad shop as a teenager before going to university, according to the proekt.ru investigation, and became romantically involved with Putin in the early 1990s when he was deputy mayor of St Petersburg. Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov dismissed the allegations as ‘not very convincing’ and ‘de facto unfounded’.
The Proekt media founder Roman Badanin was branded a ‘foreign agent’ and his outlet was closed down. Soon after, jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny’s team released a video detailing a complex network of contracts which appeared to siphon off fake rent from various state enterprises to offshore companies owned by Svetlana and Elizaveta Krivonogykh, as well as other members of Putin’s extended family, his childhood neighbors and school-friends. Navalny’s video was viewed over 100 million times — though the story went almost completely unreported in Russia’s official media. Last week’s Pandora Papers revealed that Svetlana bought a lavish $4 million fourth-floor apartment in the Monte Carlo Star apartment block in Monaco through an offshore shell company in the British Virgin Islands, created just weeks after she gave birth to her daughter. The leaked Pandora documents also appear to show Krivonogykh’s current total worth as over $100 million. In most countries such hair-raising allegations of sex, money and power would instantly become central to the national conversation. Not in Russia. Why?
First and foremost, Putin has always been obsessively secretive about his personal life — so much so that he has never even publicly acknowledged the identities of his two legitimate daughters, 36-year-old geneticist Dr Maria Vorontsova and 34-year-old mathematician (and competitive rock-and-roll dancer) Dr Katerina Tikhonova. Even the opposition press — which regularly writes about corruption in Putin’s inner circle — has been wary of writing about Putin’s women. When the Moskovsky Korrespondent newspaper dared to report in April 2008 that Putin was planning to marry his alleged then-mistress, Olympic-gold-medal-winning gymnast Alina Kabayeva, the paper was immediately shut down and its editor fired. ‘I have a private life in which I do not permit interference. It must be respected,’ Putin told a hall full of obsequious reporters at his annual press conference, denouncing ‘those who with their snotty noses and erotic fantasies prowl into others’ lives.’
Russia does not lack for a prurient yellow press. Print tabloids like MK and Zhizn — as well as a swathe of internet gossip sites — thrive on a daily diet of celebrity gossip and sex scandals. But Putin’s love life remains the most taboo of forbidden subjects. Earlier this month Putin repeated his no-tolerance policy in a live television broadcast, demanding an end to ‘digging into the dirty linen of some elites’ by journalists. He also threatened even more draconian state intervention to ensure that Russia’s media instead covered ‘real life’ in the country.
That climate of fear and an almost-completely cowed media is exactly why Svetlana and her daughter — as well as dozens of other wives and mistresses of Russia’s elite — feel free to publicly post images of their glamorous, jet-set lives. Putin’s alleged gift of the Monte Carlo apartment detailed in the Pandora Papers — as well as $8 million in shares in the Kremlin-connected Bank Rossiya mentioned in Navalny’s investigation — were made in secret. But Putin had no compunction about publicly making Kabaeva a member of parliament and then head of a major pro-Kremlin media company.
Since being ‘outed’ last year, Luiza-Eketerina Krivongykh has become an Instagram star with more than 80,000 followers, a popular DJ, and a brand ambassador for a high-end personal shopping site. She may hide her face out of coyness. But that’s about the closest that she, or any of the alleged mistresses, love-children, friends and relatives of Putin who have been the beneficiaries of hundreds of millions of dollars of money stolen from their country, ever come to shame.
This article was originally published on The Spectator’s UK website.