U.S. sanctions target Putin's Russian family, but a larger shadow family may remain

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The Biden administration and European Union allies sanctioned Russian President Vladimir Putin personally in February as part of an effort to pressure him to stop his military assault on Ukraine and the war crimes they say he is committing there.

More recently, White House officials announced economic sanctions against Putin’s two adult daughters and other aides and associates, alleging that they are helping hide his vast wealth, possibly including some assets in the U.S. financial system.

The sanctions cut off all of them from the U.S. financial system and freeze any assets they hold in the United States.

Russian President Vladimir Putin listens during a meeting in Moscow, Russia, Tuesday, March 22, 2022.
Russian President Vladimir Putin listens during a meeting in Moscow, Russia, Tuesday, March 22, 2022.

They also train a spotlight on what U.S. officials say is a decades-long campaign by Putin to stash money and riches in the names of family and friends, often through a sophisticated network of offshore accounts anonymous shell companies.

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Putin doesn’t talk about his family or his personal life, saying in 2008, "I have a private life in which I do not permit interference. It must be respected.”

But to hit Putin where it hurts most, illicit-finance experts tell USA TODAY, U.S. and European officials need to also sanction Putin’s ex-wife, several alleged girlfriends and their children and others directly related to them.

Also, they say, Washington needs to target more comprehensively Putin’s “wallets,” or his innermost circle of friends from St. Petersburg who have become billionaires themselves thanks to their proximity to the president. Experts believe their bank accounts help hide Putin's wealth, and that their riches are his to access.

In response, Biden administration officials say they are planning to continue ratcheting up sanctions incrementally in order to have the maximum impact on Putin and his war against Ukraine. Critics say they are not doing enough.

U.S. officials considered sanctioning a woman reputed to be Putin's longtime girlfriend and mother of at least three of his children, Alina Kabaeva, but spared the former Russian gymnast at the 11th hour for fear of escalating tensions, the Wall Street Journal reported on April 24.

On Monday, White House press secretary Jen Psaki had no comment on why Kabaeva and others close to Putin have escaped sanctions, saying, "I would remind you we're continuing to review sanctions. No one is safe from our sanctions."

"We've already of course sanctioned President Putin but also his daughter, his closest cronies and we'll continue to review more. ... There's more we will likely do."

Some critics, including former U.S. illicit finance expert David Asher, say much more needs to be done to have the desired effect of influencing Putin. "This is a war," he told USA TODAY. "And we need to take it seriously."

Here are some of the assets of Putin's family members who could become the target of U.S. and EU sanctions that have been uncovered by authorities, anti-corruption activists, journalists and others:

Not sanctioned: Lyudmila Putina

Russian President Vladimir Putin and wife in 2007.
Russian President Vladimir Putin and wife in 2007.

A former Aeroflot flight attendant, Putina announced her separation from Putin in 2013 after 30 years of marriage and two children who were born in the 1980s while the couple was living in East Germany.

A Ukrainian flag tagged on a wall outside a house in Anglet, southwestern France, in February 2022. According to local media, the house is owned by the husband of Vladimir Putin's ex-wife.
A Ukrainian flag tagged on a wall outside a house in Anglet, southwestern France, in February 2022. According to local media, the house is owned by the husband of Vladimir Putin's ex-wife.

Putina reportedly remarried and moved into a $4 million-plus villa in the South of France, and has other significant assets linked to Putin and their two adult daughters.

Sanctioned: Maria Vorontsova

Putin’s elder daughter, Vorontsova, 36, is a medical and genetic researcher and expert on dwarfism. She was reportedly married to Dutch businessman Jorrit Faassen, who reportedly worked for Gazprombank, one of Russia's largest private-owned financial institutions that has strong ties to Putin’s inner circle.

Maria Vorontsova is one of two Putin daughters hit with U.S. sanctions in response to Russia's war in Ukraine. She is a leading researcher at the National Medical Research Center for Endocrinology of the Russian Health Ministry and member of the Presidium of the Russian Association for the Promotion of Science.
Maria Vorontsova is one of two Putin daughters hit with U.S. sanctions in response to Russia's war in Ukraine. She is a leading researcher at the National Medical Research Center for Endocrinology of the Russian Health Ministry and member of the Presidium of the Russian Association for the Promotion of Science.

Vorontsova, since separated or divorced, also is the beneficiary of potentially more than $1 billion in Kremlin-funded research funds that “are personally overseen by Putin,” U.S. Treasury sanction documents allege. She is also believed to be the mother of Putin’s two confirmed grandchildren, born in 2012 and 2017.

Sanctioned: Katerina Tikhonova

A former competitive acrobatic dancer turned tech executive, Tikhonova, 35, now oversees a $1 billion government-funded science center affiliated with Moscow State University, according to U.S. and European officials. After her 2013 marriage to Kirill Shamalov, the son of one of Putin’s best friends from his St. Petersburg dacha association, the couple was said to be worth at least $2 billion – and Shamalov mysteriously became Russia’s youngest billionaire through a series of lucrative business deals with Putin associates. They have since divorced.

The Russian government reportedly was also building a $30 million complex for acrobatic rock’n roll, a niche sport in which President Vladimir Putin’s daughter is a leading dancer and has a senior role for development, a Reuters review of public documents has shown.

The "Alta Mira" villa is pictured in Biarritz south-western France, on February 27, 2022. - Two men have been arrested on March 14, 2022 after breaking into and occupying the property belonging to Kirill Shamalov, a Russian billionaire and former husband of Russian president Vladimir Putin's younger daughter Katerina Tikhonova.
The "Alta Mira" villa is pictured in Biarritz south-western France, on February 27, 2022. - Two men have been arrested on March 14, 2022 after breaking into and occupying the property belonging to Kirill Shamalov, a Russian billionaire and former husband of Russian president Vladimir Putin's younger daughter Katerina Tikhonova.

Not sanctioned: Alina Kabaeva

A medal-winning former Russian Olympic gymnast before going into politics, Kabaeva reportedly engaged in at least a decade-long affair with Putin beginning in 2008 and has become extremely wealthy. “Billions of stolen money are spent on the maintenance of another Putin woman,” according to a 2021 investigation by imprisoned Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, which includes a two-hour documentary and a 14,000-word report.

Russian President Vladimir Putin hands flowers to Alina Kabayeva during an awards ceremony in the Kremlin in 2001.
Russian President Vladimir Putin hands flowers to Alina Kabayeva during an awards ceremony in the Kremlin in 2001.

Though Putin has long denied the affair, Navalny claims Putin married Kabaeva, who is 30 years younger than he is, in a secret wedding ceremony. His anti-corruption foundation also says Kabaeva officially received a salary of 785 million rubles – about $10.7 million a year in 2019 – from Putin banker Yury Kovalchuk as a board director of his national media company. She vanished from public view in 2018 after news reports that she was the alleged mother of as many as five of Putin’s children – a son Dmitry born in 2008, a daughter in 2012, another child in 2015 and then twin boys. She reappeared this week at an event named after her in Moscow but has declined to discuss anything about her personal life and finances.

Not sanctioned: Svetlana Krivonogikh

A former shop cleaner and alleged Putin mistress, Krivonogikh is believed to have had at least one child with him in 2003, according to Russian media reports and the investigative collaborative effort known as the Pandora Papers. Her net worth allegedly has soared from near zero to more than $100 million, including a 3% ownership in “Putin’s bank,” St. Petersburg-based Bank Rossiya, according to Navalny's anti-corruption foundation.

Other suspected Krivonogikh assets include a $4 million-plus home in Monaco, and several high-end apartments – including one for her mother and at least one yacht, the 40-meter Pulse. Earlier this month, Krivonogikh reportedly rented out her luxury four-story apartment in the exclusive Kamenny Island enclave in St. Petersburg that she had been residing in — complete with its own moat.

More: US, allies seizing luxury yachts of Russian oligarchs in sanctions for war on Ukraine

Her young adult daughter, Elizaveta, said she was loving the "limelight" when her alleged identity as Putin’s daughter was revealed by Russian opposition media last year.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Some of Putin's family targeted by Russian sanctions, but not all