Meet Putin’s Olympic Torch-Lighting Paramour

Who was that lithe, bendable gymnast setting alight the Olympic flame? Why none other than Putin’s rumored longtime mistress.

As the all-seeing eye of Russia’s surveillance state, the Federal Security Police (FSB) has the ability to tap phone conversations of American ambassadors, send dissidents like Pussy Riot to Siberian workcamps, and harass the political opposition. But former FSB chief-turned-president and amateur zookeeper Vladimir Putin somehow had no idea that his purported mistress (or, some say, his secret wife), Alina Kabaeva, would be lighting the torch in the Opening Ceremony at this year’s Sochi Olympic Games.

“I’m aware of this [the speculation that Kabaeva will light the flame], I was told of this by [Kremlin spokesman] Dmitry Peskov,” he told state TV on Wednesday. “These are the usual red herrings. We have many outstanding sportspeople who are significant and known in the whole world and I am not going to interfere in this process.”

But there Kabaeva was, a former Olympic champion in rhythmic gymnastics and member of parliament, marching in the final leg of the ceremony alongside Russian tennis champion Maria Sharapova, flashing a toothy smile as she held the torch aloft (apparently sleeping with one of the torchbearers doesn’t count as interfering). And Putin had no idea that the woman he’s rumored to have been shtupping since 2008 would have any part in this year’s games. He was so out of the loop that a Kremlin spokesperson told him of these malicious rumors—“the usual red herrings.”

But why the secrecy? The fact is that Putin has never publically acknowledged his rumored relationship with the lithe, bendable Kabaeva. But it has always been a touchy subject for the Russian strongman, who closed down the newspaper Moskovsky Korrespondent after it reported that Putin was leaving his longtime wife, Lyudmila, to marry Kabaeva. On the heels of Putin and Lyudmila’s televised divorce announcement last summer, Putin’s trusty spokesman was oblique when confronting the usual “red herrings” —this time that Putin and Kabaeva had been joined as husband and wife. “It’s his decision and he’s not obliged to talk about his private life,” he told the newspaper Izvestia. In January, reports surfaced that Kabaeva gave birth to her second love child with Putin, who is rumored to have shipped her to his “palatial retreat” in...Sochi.

After all, sleeping with Russia’s muscular president is seemingly great way to advance one’s career—to carry the Olympic flame, or, in the case of another alleged mistress, to be hired as his personal photographer despite not being a particularly good photographer (see Yana Lapikova’s cat portrait and other works showcasing her aptitude with a camera).

We will likely never know if Kabaeva earned her Olympic torch spot through her relationship with Putin—or if such a relationship even exists—because in a country where information is tightly controlled by the government, information about the those in government can only exist in the realm of speculation and “red herrings.”