Vladimir Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, recently had to answer a direct question about the identity of Katerina Tikhonova, a woman said to be the President's elusive younger daughter. Here's what Peskov said:
Я не знаю, кто это. Не могу это оценить, я не знаю. До сих пор много девушек выдавали за дочерей Владимира Путина.
I don't know who that is. I am unable to assess that, I don't know. Up to this point, many girls have posed as daughters of Vladimir Putin.
So, just how did Putin's press secretary find himself sidestepping questions about his boss's daughter?
The story began when the newspaper RBC published an investigation on January 28 into a huge development project in Moscow estimated at over $1.7 billion. RBC's investigation says a mysterious person named Katerina Tikhonova is a key figure behind the project to build a new science and technology center at Moscow State University.
Next, the Russian journalist Oleg Kashin, a prolific tweeter and the survivor of a brutal 2010 attack widely considered retribution for his work, entered the story. In a post to his website, Kashin identified Katerina Tikhonova as none other than Putin's younger daughter.
In his post, Kashin first describes how Tikhonova has begun to appear more in public recently. He notes that Tikhonova attended this year's World Economic Forum in Davos, a high-profile event for the rich and powerful in Switzerland, with Kirill Shamalov, the deputy CEO of the Russian energy company Sibur and son of Russian oligarch Nikolay Shamalov, a long-time friend of Vladimir Putin's. (An anonymous Putin family acquaintance told Bloomberg that Kirill Shamalov is Tikhonova’s husband.)
Kashin then recalls how Putin once said that his daughter Katerina was named after her maternal grandmother, Ekaterina Tikhonovna Shkrebneva, and muses about why Putin's spokesperson sidestepped the question about Tikhonovna.
Next, Kashin points to a video of a young woman named Katerina Tikhonova dancing in an acrobatic rock ’n’ roll competition sponsored by the same financial interests backing the Moscow mega-project of the RBC investigation.
Finally, Kashin cites rumors from last summer that one of Putin's daughters was heading up the building of a new science and technology center in Moscow.
Putting it all together, Kashin argues that these three Katerinas—the dancer, businesswoman, and president's daughter—are one and the same.
Following Kashin's post, an anonymous source “close the Moscow State University leadership” confirmed to Reuters on January 29 that Katerina Tikhonova is indeed the daughter of Vladimir Putin. With this, the story took off.
During his many years in power, Vladimir Putin has closely guarded the details of his personal life. In fact, Putin's two daughters, Katerina, 28, and Maria, 29, have never given media interviews, and the Kremlin has never even published any pictures of them as adults.
Understandably, therefore, this story immediately attracted national and international media attention.
Perhaps the most shared part of the story on social networks has been Katerina Tikhonova's dance moves.
Putin's younger daughter may have found herself in the international media spotlight through the chance combination of an RBC investigation, Oleg Kashin's sharp eye, and a Reuters anonymous source.
Then again, RBC is a newspaper owned by Mikhail Prokhorov, and now seems as unlikely a time as ever for a Russian oligarch to risk Putin's wrath by failing to get permission to publish an investigation into a project being headed by his younger daughter, whose privacy Putin has closely guarded.
Either way, Katerina Tikhonova has become a public figure in Russia. And who knows where connections like hers in Russia might end up taking her now.