Friday 20 June 2008

Vladimir Putin 'to wed Olympic gymnast half his age'

He is the president of a resurgent superpower. She is a rhythmic gymnast less than half his age.

Now all Moscow is ablaze with rumours that Vladimir Putin, 56, and the flexible 24-year-old Alina Kabaeva have decided to tie the knot.

President Vladimir Putin and Russian gymnast Alina Kabaeva in the Kremlin
There are increasingly frantic rumours of a wedding between Mr Putin and Alina Kabaeva, the rhythmic gymnast and model

The whispers of romance are particularly scurrilous because Mr Putin has not officially announced any separation from his 50-year-old wife, Ludmilla.

But the former KGB spy, known for keeping his private life as far out of the spotlight as his former career, is reported to have split from her two months ago.

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Rumours of Mr Putin's courtship of the rhythmic gymnast champion and model, who is now a member of the Russian parliament, have been circulating unofficially for some time.

But only now has a Russian newspaper dared to print the gossip, citing a party planner in St Petersburg who claimed to be bidding to organise the couple's lavish wedding reception.

According to Moskovski Korrespondent, the couple are to marry in mid-June, little more than a month after he steps down as Russian president. One website went so far as to claim that the pair had been seen kissing in a Moscow restaurant.

His terms in office have propelled Mr Putin from complete unknown to Russian hero, as he claimed credit for rebuilding the pride of a nation shattered by post-communist chaos.

Miss Kabaeva was just a toddler when Mikhail Gorbachev began the reform process, or perestroika, which led to that chaotic end of the Soviet era.

Born in 1983, in Tashkent, now the capital of Uzbekistan, she was reportedly a late starter as an athlete, but progressed swiftly due to her "extreme natural flexibility".

Her physical attributes, much prized in the rhythmic gymnastic world, have seen her clinch several medals. She represented Russia at both the Sydney and Athens Olympic Games.

Her interests appear not to be limited purely to the sporting arena. She has posed for daring photographs wrapped in nothing but furs and has appeared in an action film.

Despite increasingly frantic rumours of a wedding, apparently to take place on June 15 in Mr Putin's home town of St Petersburg, the Kremlin has so far refused to comment.

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