Vladimir Putin's Private Daughters Now in the Spotlight With New Wave of Sanctions

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Russian President Vladimir Putin (C), his wife Ludmila (R) and daughter Maria (2ndL)
Russian President Vladimir Putin (C), his wife Ludmila (R) and daughter Maria (2ndL)

ALEXANDER NEMENOV/AFP via Getty From left, front: Vladimir Putin's daughter Maria with him and mother Ludmila in 2007

Russian President Vladimir Putin's offstage family life is now firmly in the spotlight, thanks in part to a new wave of sanctions from the U.S. and others — aimed at two of his children.

Putin himself has already been subject to economic retaliation from Western countries amid the ongoing invasion of Ukraine, which began in earnest in late February and has killed at least hundreds of soldiers and civilians since.

The U.S., the European Union and Group of Seven countries on Wednesday announced more punishments of Russia for the war, including some directed at the families of Putin and a few of his allies, cutting them off from any U.S. financial systems and freeing any assets they have within the U.S.

Those most recent sanctions apply to Putin's adult children, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov's wife and daughter and members of Russia's Security Council including former President and Prime Minister of Russia Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin.

"These individuals have enriched themselves at the expense of the Russian people," the White House said in a release announcing the sanctions. "Some of them are responsible for providing the support necessary to underpin Putin's war on Ukraine."

The economic penalties announced Wednesday also include a full block on Russia's largest financial institution, Sberbank, as well as Alfa Bank, a large private bank.

The Kremlin on Thursday called the move against Putin's daughters "difficult to understand and explain."

"Of course we consider these sanctions in themselves to be the extension of an absolutely rabid position on the imposition of restrictions," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters, per Reuters. "In any case, the ongoing line on imposing restrictions against family members speaks for itself."

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President Vladimir Putin and his wife Ludmila Alexandrowa Putina
President Vladimir Putin and his wife Ludmila Alexandrowa Putina

Alexander Hassenstein/Getty From left: Ludmila Alexandrowa Putina and Vladimir Putin in 2007

Putin, 69, has long been tight-lipped about his family life (which, as foreign affairs expert Dr. Matthew Schmidt recently explained to PEOPLE, is by design). But a few key things about his personal life have been confirmed.

In 1983, Putin — a former agent in the KGB, a Soviet intelligence agency — married Lyudmila Shkrebneva and the couple had two daughters: Mariya and Yekaterina or Katerina, also known as Masha and Katya.

Those are officially Putin's only adult children (and therefore the targets of the recent Western sanctions), though he is rumored to have had children with other women as well.

Katerina and Mariya are in their 30s but rarely seen in public, and many details about their lives are not available or occasionally conflict in various reports.

They and others close to Putin have been accused of shielding some of his own assets. Reuters previously investigated their possible personal wealth, citing analysts who said Katerina and her husband would have an estimated $2 billion in corporate assets. (Sanctioning Putin's kids, in other words, could be another way to punish Putin himself.)

The Wall Street Journal reports that the U.S. Treasury said Katerina works in tech in connection with the Russian government and defense industry and her older sister, Maria, directs genetic research programs funded by the Kremlin — which has never publicly identified either woman by her full name.

According to the Journal, Maria was born in 1985 in the Soviet Union and Katerina was born a year later in Germany, where her father was then stationed. He and their mother had divorced by 2013, according to the Kremlin.

Insider and Reuters report that both Mariya and Katerina attended college, though under false identities.

Mariya is thought to be living a somewhat quiet life in Moscow, where she is married with at least one child of her own, according to Reuters.

Katerina, meanwhile, reportedly embraces a more public lifestyle and was seen last year at a speaking engagement at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum in Russia — though she was never explicitly linked with Putin at the event, Insider reports. She is also a former dancer.

RELATED: Ukraine's President Zelenskyy Wants His Kids to Know Soldiers Are Dying to Keep His Family Alive


Chris McGrath/Getty Images The Russian invasion of Ukraine

The sanctions unveiled Wednesday are the latest to be directed at Russia since Putin first began his invasion Ukraine in late February.

While Russia remains in a grinding battle for control of Ukraine's cities — and, according to mounting civilian reports and President Joe Biden himself, engaging in "war crimes" — the sanctions have put Russia under increasingly desperate economic conditions.

Kremlin officials have said the U.S. sanctions were likely to have little effect on Putin himself but previously said they were an act of aggression, interfering in Russia's affairs.

With NATO forces massing in the region around Ukraine, various countries have also pledged aid or military support to the resistance. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has called for peace talks — so far unsuccessful — while urging his country to fight back.

Putin insists Ukraine has historic ties to Russia and he is acting in the best security interests of his country. Zelenskyy vowed not to bend.

"Nobody is going to break us, we're strong, we're Ukrainians," he told the European Union in a speech in the early days of the fighting, adding, "Life will win over death. And light will win over darkness."

The Russian attack on Ukraine is an evolving story, with information changing quickly. Follow PEOPLE's complete coverage of the war here, including stories from citizens on the ground and ways to help.