The Lavish Lives of the Kremlin’s Ultra-Rich Daughters

Photo Illustration by The Daily Beast/Vyacheslav Prokofyev/Getty
Photo Illustration by The Daily Beast/Vyacheslav Prokofyev/Getty
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MOSCOW—A new generation of elite Russian women with high-standing fathers—including ministers, members of parliament or top bureaucrats in the Kremlin—manage multimillion-dollar businesses, enjoy luxurious lifestyles, and pose in glitzy photos for high-fashion magazines and social media accounts with vast followings.

Privileges, senior positions, low-rate bank credits, and fat stakes in companies fall on the Kremlin’s daughters as manna from heaven. They are growing rich and successful, bringing welcomed women’s faces to top jobs—and raising thorny questions along the way.

Women don’t often climb to the top of Russia’s male-dominated business or political pyramids. Twice as many men than women start their own companies. But connections, especially close family members in power, have been skyrocketing Russian women to careers at banks and business corporations.

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Long believed to be daughters of President Vladimir Putin, 34-year-old Yekaterina Tikhonova and 36-year-old Maria Vorontsova—two of the most mysterious ladies in Russia’s business and science sectors—manage projects with billion-dollar budgets.

A former acrobatic dancer, Tikhonova was only 28 when she took over a $1.5 billion project developing Science and Technology Park at Moscow State University. Vorontsova, an endocrinologist often referred to in Russian media as “the first daughter,” reportedly oversees a program developing genetic technologies with more than a billion-dollar budget.

Last week, the youngest daughter of the Russian defense minister, 30-year-old Ksenia Shoigu, decided to sell her successful IT startup company that made more than $3 million last year. She launched the venture fund, Sistema SmartTech, in 2020. While Ksenia’s father Sergei Shoigu oversees one of the world’s most powerful militaries, his daughter has led a surprisingly public lifestyle: she organizes sporting events, presents business projects and takes part in one fashion shoot after another. “I am a mother of all projects,” Shoigu, dressed in a French designer dress, said in one interview.

Most of the other Kremlin daughters stray away from independent journalists or public events. “The maximum the daughters are allowed to do is attend an annual ball organized by Tatler magazine,” Anna Mongait, a socialite and television presenter, told The Daily Beast.

Every year, the Russian elite present their daughters—clad in furs, crazy-expensive ball dresses, and sometimes with fans in hand—at the annual Tatler ball. Yelizoveta Peskova, the 17-year-old blond daughter of the Kremlin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, debuted at the annual ball in 2015. Twenty-three year old Leonela Manturova, daughter of the minister of industry and trade, Denis Manturov, debuted in 2018. A year later, the granddaughter of a former prime minister, Anastasia Chernomyrdina, made her big splash.

Moscow’s been gossiping about the daughter of Russia’s deputy prime minister, Maria Shuvalova, since 2018, when the richest ballerina of Bolshoi Theater launched her career and won solo parts at the country’s top theater. Russian ballerinas view Bolshoi as a cathedral of arts—to appear on the Bolshoi’s stage is a great honor. Still, it is hard to make a great fortune off ballet: the typical salaries at the Bolshoi vary between $500 and $2,500 a month.

<div class="inline-image__title"> Vladimir Putin at the State Academic Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow.</div> <div class="inline-image__credit">ALEXEI DRUZHININ/AFP via Getty Images</div>
Vladimir Putin at the State Academic Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow.

Not only has Maria’s father been close to President Putin for two decades, he also played a role in overseeing Russia’s multi-billion dollar sovereign wealth fund. The Kremlin’s ballerina owns stakes in a London-based company, Regional Property Developments Limited, as well as elite property in Russia. She travels around the world and has posed on a yacht in Dubai for her Instagram account. According to an investigative report by Baza news site, the 18-year-old ballerina made more than $20 million in 2018.

A decade ago, Shuvalova’s father was known as one of the reforming voices in the Kremlin’s liberal wing of politicians, supporting investigations into corruption in state projects. But his latest statements are more vague. “Of course, we would like to have it very much,” Shuvalov recently said about democracy. “But it does not happen in one day. It will take years of hard work.” Needless to say, Russians have never heard Shuvalov’s daughter ever articulate her ideas about corruption, environmental issues, or human rights.

Although Russian elite’s daughters are surely proud of their influential parents, they are not encouraged to have a voice in politics. Their time is more often spent making money on Instagram advertisements, rather than on chronicling political rallies or human rights abuse, like Alexandra Pelosi, the daughter of the U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Almost none of them write political columns, like Meghan McCain, or bestselling books on acute issues, like Katherine Schwarzenegger, daughter of the former governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger.

“Most of these young women in their twenties and thirties would have never got their managing positions and big stakes in business companies, if not for their fathers’ powerful connections,” a former Member of Parliament, Gennady Gudkov, told The Daily Beast on Wednesday. “To stay wealthy and successful, they keep their mouths shut: every daughter understands perfectly well that once she begins to comment on corruption or human rights her dad will be in the epicenter of a ruinous scandal.”

There are exceptions. The socialite Ksenia Sobchak, known as “Putin’s goddaughter,” has built a business and entertainment empire over years of show-business toiling, though her famous name surely pushed her foot through the door. She appears on covers of leading fashion magazines, posed naked while pregnant for Tatler, and leverages her giant social media following for profits. The television diva also attends fashion shows all over the world, and makes millions of dollars on television projects and her restaurant business.

To everybody’s surprise, the socialite, whose father—the mayor of St. Petersburg—was once Putin’s boss, joined Russia’s opposition movement in 2011, in spite of police detentions and cancelled contracts on state television.

She recorded multiple videos addressed to Putin, who she has known since her early childhood, confronting the country’s leader about the outrageous corruption and political persecutions carried out by Kremlin law enforcement. “I do have iron balls,” Sobchak told The Daily Beast in 2012.

But the time of Sobchak’s resistance against the Kremlin is long gone. Political analysts say Sobchak’s decision to take part in the 2018 presidential elections was the Kremlin’s idea to distract public attention away from more genuine opposition candidates. Only 1.6 percent of Russians voted for Sobchak. Since then, her critical voice has gone silent, and her Instagram is once again buzzing with selfies at the beach.

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To be fair, no small share of Russian men have climbed Moscow’s career ladders in the footsteps of their powerful fathers. Minister of Agriculture Dmitry Patrushev is the son of Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev. Earlier this year, the son of Putin’s university friend Victor Khmarin was appointed general director of Russia’s major hydroelectric company, RusHydro.

One of the youngest Kremlin daughters, Yelizoveta Peskova, has said she considers herself a feminist but not in a confrontational mold. She said, graphically, that she disliked “the manly women who call for pissing on the face of male opinion.”

On April 25, a few days after police came to Alexei Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation in Moscow and shut down his team’s operation, Peskova’s company opened a new pizzeria, Da Giovanni, in the same building at Omega Plaza business center.

“None of the Kremlin’s daughters call for women’s empowerment, address global warming, the plight of immigrants or the horrible problem with domestic violence,” Kagershin Sagiyeva, an observer on independent Rain TV, told The Daily Beast. “We won’t hear their voices unless the patterns of patriarchy and the power of men over women are really addressed.”

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