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Monday, April 23, 2012

Mystery of Russia's missing first lady: Is Putin's 'affair' with spy Anna Chapman?

Rumours: Alina Kabayeva, who some claim is having an affair with Vladimir Putin

Meeting: Vladimir Putin (left) looking slightly smitten with Alina Kabayeva (right)

Putin was often pictured with his wife, as seen here with U.S. President George W Bush and wife Laura in 2006, but Lyudmila has shied away from public view in recent years

Putting on a show: Vladimir Putin and wife Lyudmila during their 2010 television appearance

She will soon become Russia's First Lady for an unprecedented third time - but mystery is surrounding exactly who, and where, is Lyudmila Putina.

As her Kremlin strongman husband Vladimir prepares to once more take up his nation's Presidency, speculation is mounting as to why she is never seen by his side.

Some say an affair with spy-turned-lingerie model Anna Chapman, which has been strongly denied, is the reason the former Aeroflot-hostess is now rarely seen out in public.

Other tongues say he is still seeing former Olympic gold medallist Alina Kabayeva, claims also heavily rebutted, but who he was alleged to have fathered a child with.

A third theory is his 54-year-old love is 'locked away' in a £1million state-built guest house in the grounds of the ancient Yelizarov monastery outside Pskov - close to Estonia's border.

Locals say they have 'proof' she has been there - but all official enquiries to the authorities are met with a steely silence.

A final hunch is Lyudmila became angry when, in 2008, he stepped down from the top job but then took up the post of Prime Minister

She is rumoured to have moved back to his native St Petersburg while he remained in the capital Moscow.

Sociologist Olga Kryshtranovkaya said Putin was merely copying Soviet leaders who hid their wives from view.

The one exception, she said, was Mikhail Gorbachev whose wife Raisa played a higher-profile role during the 1980s - but that led to criticism from ordinary Russians.

She told The Times: 'For Russia, the status of First Lady is different than in Western countries. It's our mentality about the role of women, unfortunately.

'Our First Lady has practically always been a housewife who looked after the children and didn't invite herself into politics.

'The first change was with Gorbachev and it was a very unsuccessful example from the Russian point of view.' Putin, 59, will be inaugurated on May 7, then fly to the U.S. on May 18 for the annual G8 summit of world leaders.

It is unlikely Lyudmila will be with him, as in the last two years they have been seen together just twice. Previously, they were often pictured together on diplomatic trips abroad - Lyudmila seen posing with Tony Blair's wife Cherie and George W Bush's First Lady Laura.

In October 2010 the couple, married in 1983, tried to quell rumours they had divorced by posing for pictures as they jointly answered questions for the national census.

Then, on March 4, she was spotted leaving a polling station after casting her vote. Little is also known about the couple's two daughters.

Photographs of Maria, 26, and Yekaterina, 25, have never been published by Russia's media and no family portraits have ever been released.

Although being undeniably tough on his marriage, speculation that former KGB agent Putin is 'seeing' flame-haired beauty Chapman will certainly do no harm to his image.

Arrested in the U.S. in 2010 for espionage, the pin-up sexy spy was soon catapulted into the limelight as her pictures were splashed around the world.

Her intelligence career came to an abrupt end when, along with her nine colleagues, she was arrested in New York City an FBI counter-intelligence swoop.

But, the daughter of a senior KGB agent, has become a celebrity in Russia since her dramatic Cold War-style prisoner swap deportation back to her home country in July 2010.

It culminated when last month she appeared on the catwalk at Russian Fashion Week in Moscow clothed in a skin-tight leather ensemble.

Putin has also been linked to Olympic gymnast Alina Kabayeva, who appeared on Russian Vogue's cover in January 2011.

The 28-year-old, who won a bronze medal in the rhythmic gymnastics at the Sydney Games in 2000 and bettered it with gold four years later at Athens, is alleged to have mothered his lovechild.

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