‘Vladimir Putin’s lover’ Alina Kabayeva to head Russian media firm

An Olympic rhythmic gymnastics champion, rumoured to be Russian President Vladimir Putin’s lover, has been appointed the head of a powerful pro-Kremlin media group.

Alina Kabayeva, 31, announced on Monday that she was standing down early after seven years as a lawmaker for the ruling United Russia party, without saying why.

“Alina Maratovna has accepted the offer of our shareholders to chair the board of directors,” National Media Group spokeswoman Oksana Razumova said, using Kabayeva’s patronymic.

National Media Group (NMG) was created in a 2008 merger that included the holdings of businessman Yury Kovalchuk, who is also chairman of Bank Rossiya.

Kabayeva used to host a television chat show. “She has no other experience in the media business,” the Vedomosti business daily said.

In 2008, Russian paper Moskovsky Korrespondent alleged that Putin had secretly divorced and was about to marry Kabayeva. Both parties angrily denied the claim, with Putin lashing out at journalists for prying into his private life with “snotty noses and erotic fantasies”. The newspaper announced its closure shortly afterwards.

The rumour refused to die, however, and speculation reignited after Putin and his wife, Lyudmila, announced their divorce last year.