From a childhood spent in Germany to their billionaire husbands, Juliana Piskorz dives into the lives of Putin’s daughters
The West has been scratching its head about how to further hamper the Russian war effort without imposing a blanket oil embargo this week.
One answer? To sanction Vladimir Putin’s millionaire daughters, Maria Vorontsova, 36, and Katerina Tikhonova, 35.
In a move that is perhaps more symbolic than game-changing, the EU and Joe Biden have turned their attention to Putin’s family, in particular his adult daughters, whose lives have up-until-now been shrouded in mystery. Unlike his one-time supporter and political counterpart Donald Trump, Putin has worked hard to keep his offspring off the world stage, never acknowledging their existence except for telling director Oliver Stone in a 2017 interview that “they are not interested in business or politics.”
So who are Katerina and Maria and how could sanctions affect them? On the surface both the Russian strongman’s daughters have led seemingly “normal” lives. Although their whereabouts are currently unknown, both girls were educated in the German city of Dresden, where Putin was stationed while working for the KGB, and have excelled in their chosen professions; Katerina is an Paediatric endocrinologist with an interest in dwarfism and Maria is the head of the Moscow State University AI institute.
Despite their white collar work, Putin’s daughters with ex-wife and former air stewardess Ludmila Putina, have undoubtedly benefited from their presidential connections. Having completed their secondary education at the German School in Moscow, both girls went on to study in St Petersburg State University under fake names, where its rector Lyudmila Verbitskaya is a close personal friend of Putin. Maria studied biology before graduating with a degree in medicine at Moscow State University. While her younger sister Katerina, studied Japanese history before completing a Masters degree in Mathematics and Physics also from Moscow State.
But their lives are not all work and no play, during her studies Katerina developed a passion for acrobatic rock’n’roll, an unusual form of dance involving stunts and gymnastics. She even went on to compete in several competitions, including the 2013 world championship, where she came fifth place. Conveniently, after Katerina became involved in the sport, the municipal government funded the erection of a £24 million state-of-the-art centre for acrobatic rock’n’roll in Moscow, which boasts a helipad and swimming pool. Speaking to Reuters about the project, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov denied any government involvement, claiming that it “does not have any relation to us”.
Since her somersaulting days, Katerina has ditched her leotard in favour of more cerebral pursuits, landing a job as director of Innpraktika, a $1.7 billion project to create a science center at Moscow State University, before being appointed as head of the university’s AI institute in 2020. Meanwhile, Maria completed a PHD in endocrinology at Moscow State University and is a co-owner of a Russian private healthcare investment company called Nomenko.
But it’s not just their careers that have gone swimmingly. Both daughters went on to lucrative marriages. Maria married Dutch businessman Jorrit Faassen in 2013, living with him in a penthouse in Voorschoten in western Holland, before moving back to Moscow in 2014. The couple were driven out of Holland after Dutch residents called for their expulsion following the downing of Malaysia Airlines’ flight MH17, which killed several Dutch residents and was widely suspected to be the work of the Kremlin.
Faassen, who now works for the Russian energy company Gazprom, seems to have ingratiated himself with his powerful father-in-law. During a driving incident in Moscow in 2010, Faassen got into an altercation with Russian banker Matvei Urin, who, unaware of his links to Putin, ordered his bodyguards to beat up the Dutch businessmen. Soon after the incident, Urin was arrested and jailed for six years, with all six of his banks declared bankrupt.
Katerina, on the other hand, married the billionaire son of one of Putin’s close friends’, Kirill Shamalov. The 2013 society wedding took place at the Russian ski resort Igora, with guests in attendance sworn to secrecy. A year after the wedding, Putin’s great friend and Katerina’s new father-in-law, Nikolai Shamalov received a 17 per cent stake in Russia’s biggest petrochemicals company Sibur.
Although Katerina and Shamalov jr. split in 2018, according to Bloomberg the pair are worth around $2 billion and their joint assets include a £2.8 million holiday home in Biarritz, which was taken over by pro-Ukrainian squatters following the Russian invasion.
The potential sanctioning of Putin’s daughters comes after several other high profile Russian oligarchs have had their assets frozen by the EU and UK in the last month, including notorious Chelsea FC owner Roman Abramovich, Andrej Kostin, the Chairman of Russia’s VTB bank and Putin’s right-hand man Igor Sechin. But sanctions gained new impetus this week, after the bodies of over 300 civilians shot at close range were discovered in a mass grave in Bucha.
Meanwhile Zelensky has repeatedly called on EU states and the US to impose a blanket ban on Russian oil and coal, stressing that he "cannot tolerate any indecisiveness" from the West.
© Evening Standard