Vladimir Putin’s alleged secret lover has dramatically reappeared in public for the first time in more than two-and-a-half years.
Former Olympic champion Alina Kabaeva, 38, wore what appeared to be a wedding ring on her right hand in view of the camera.
She went on state TV to denounce Tokyo 2020 judges after Russian star Dina Averina failed to win a gold medal in rhythmic gymnastics.
Her disappearance for almost three years fuelled rumours that she had given birth to twins in a Moscow hospital, despite official denials of a relationship with Putin, 68, who abhors intrusion into his private life.
Kabaeva went on TV after issuing rare statements lambasting the judges in her old sport of rhythmic gymnastics for which she had won an Olympic Gold and was twice world champion.
She looked confident and poised as she returned to the limelight after a long absence with a Putinesque blast against a perceived slight against Russia.
In the clip on 60 Minutes political talk show, on Rossiya 1 channel, she was not quizzed about Putin, or asked whether she was Russia’s secret first lady.
Russian President Vladimir Putin and Kabaeva attend an event for Olympic champions in 2004 ( Image: TASS via Getty Images)
Instead, she attacked the gold medal for Israel’s Linoy Ashram, who beat Averina, which Kabaeva had earlier labelled a “blatant injustice” and a conspiracy against Russia.
On TV, Kabaeva said: “Dina Averina’s performance was perfect. Unlike her rival from Israel (who) made a gross mistake.
“That mistake should have been worth a point, but they only took 0.7 points.
“Olympic (golds) are not won with such mistakes. It took them six minutes to give her points.”
The delay “means that the judges were calculating the points and did not want Averina to win over the Israeli gymnast”, Kabaeva claimed.
Asked if the Russian was a victim of judges from Western countries, hostile to Russia, she said: “Many sports are judged by people from Nato countries.
“Some people are decent, and some not quite.”
Earlier, Kabaeva said: “Our athlete was bluntly and unceremoniously deprived of the gold medal.”
Russian gymnast Dina Averina reacts after missing out on a gold medal at Tokyo 2020 ( Image: AFP via Getty Images)
The judges had set a “dangerous precedent” for the Olympics which could “destroy” the values on which the contest rests, she claimed.
She also claimed that details of a stitch-up against Russia would eventually be revealed in memoirs by those taking part.
Kabaeva heads a major pro-Kremlin media holding but vanished from view in October 2018 amid unconfirmed suggestions that she had a young family.
Rumours first linked her romantically to Putin, as long ago as 2008 when she was a pro-Kremlin MP, and despite denials many believe her to be Russia’s secret first lady. Vladimir Putin’s nuclear warheads launch missiles in war games trial caught on camera
Tabloid Express Gazeta recounted in May: “She literally vanished.
“After the giving-birth-to-twins reports nothing was heard about Kabaeva, as if she had disappeared.
“Alina is not giving interviews, nor attending social events, nor participating in any TV programmes.
“One can only guess what is happening in her private life.”
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.”
Putin (pictured in 2001 with Kabaeva) has refused to comment on his romantic life ( Image: AFP via Getty Images)
He deplored “those who with their snotty noses and erotic fantasies prowl into others’ lives”.
Kabaeva is on record as saying she had met a man who “I love very much”, gushing: “Sometimes you feel so happy that you even feel scared.”
Russian gymnasts have won 12 of the past 14 world championship all-around golds.
In 2001 Kabaeva was temporarily banned from competing in rhythmic gymnastics after failing a doping test.
A year earlier she had won gold at the 2000 summer Olympics.
Putin and Kabaeva speak following the Russian Rhythmic Gymnastics Cup in 2001 ( Image: TASS via Getty Images)
Once regarded as Russia’s most eligible woman, the only other suitor she has been linked to by the media was a married Georgian policeman.
This relationship petered out in 2005 amid complaints of tabloid intrusion into the sportswoman’s life.
She once posed almost nude for Maxim and was described as “full of sex” by a photographer.
There have been many reports of her wearing a wedding ring, but no records of a marriage.
She is reported to have a fleet of Maybach limousines at her disposal, and was seen surrounded by a squad of machine-gun toting security guards on visits to a Moscow cafe.
Many Russians saw her as the reason for the breakup of Putin’s marriage to ex-first lady Lyudmila, 63, mother of his two adult daughters.
The dictator of neighbouring Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko hinted that Putin’s divorce decision came about because Kabaeva “put pressure on the president”.