Putin's ex-wife returns to the spotlight with a dashing young husband and a fancy French villa
By ADAM TAYLOR | The Washington Post | Published: April 6, 2017
Lyudmila Putin was the wife of Vladimir Putin for three decades. They met in Leningrad, married in 1983 and moved to East Germany, where her husband was a KGB spy. When the Iron Curtain crumbled, they returned to Russia, where Vladimir Putin began his remarkable journey to becoming the most powerful person in the country, if not the planet.
But as Vladimir reigned in Moscow, Lyudmila was seen less and less in public. Wild rumors in the Russian press suggested that he had packed her off to a monastery. In June 2013, the couple attended a Kremlin production of the ballet "La Esmeralda." In the intermission, they announced to reporters that they would be divorcing.
Since then, Russians have heard little about Lyudmila. Putin's press secretary refused to answer questions about her life, while the Kremlin biography of Russia's president deleted all mention of her. But many ordinary citizens remained fascinated by her, eager to know what had happened to the woman who may have gotten closer to Putin than anyone else.
Now, almost four years later, details about Lyudmila's new life are emerging. And rather than turning up at a remote monastery, she appears to be planning a lavish life at a European villa, with a new husband 20 years her junior.
These new details offer not only a glimpse into the notoriously private world of Putin's family, barely acknowledged in official accounts and the subject of tabloid gossip, but also a hint of the wealth that critics say the Russian president and those in his inner circle have acquired over recent years.
The Russian news website Sobesednik revealed Lyudmila's new relationship last year, when it reported on documents that appeared to show that the 58-year-old divorcée had remarried and changed her last name to that of her new husband, businessman Artur Ocheretny, then 37. Photographs appearing to show the couple at London's Heathrow Airport were published this weekend by the website Starhit.
The couple's link to the European villa was revealed Wednesday when the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) published an article that suggested Ocheretny was the owner of a "mini-palace" in a village called Anglet, near Biarritz in the southwest of France, that is worth up to $7.46 million and is undergoing an extensive renovation. The villa was bought six months after the Putins announced their divorce, the OCCRP reported.
One local resident told a reporter from the OCCRP that the art deco villa was a landmark. "The buyer is Putin's ex-wife, we all know this here," the local was reported to have said, apparently unaware that Artur Ocheretny was the legal owner.
It seems like a happy ending for Lyudmila. Accounts of the Putins' long marriage weren't always pretty, and the sensitive Lyudmila is said to have struggled with her harsher husband. As Nataliya Gevorkyan, a biographer of Putin, told The Washington Post shortly before the divorce was announced, "She was a woman who loved and was not loved."
But the OCCRP's discovery of the luxury villa in France also raised questions about how Lyudmila or her new husband could afford such a lavish property. Artur Ocheretny is the director of a nonprofit organization, the Center for the Development of Interpersonal Communications, which is best known for being closely linked to Lyudmila. Before that, he worked at an event agency that often worked with government clients. The OCCRP notes that Russian NGO directors do not generally receive high salaries, and none of Ocheretny's business ventures appear to be a success.
Lyudmila is not officially wealthy, either. Until her divorce, she was required by law to declare her assets and income, and she never declared much. In fact, Vladimir Putin's own wealth declarations are similarly sparse, with a $147,000 salary and limited assets, including a Moscow apartment, a plot of land and three cars, listed on his 2015 statement.
There has long been speculation, however, that Putin and those close to him are significantly wealthier than they let on. Some estimates for the Russian president's personal wealth go as high as $200 billion, though they are backed by sparse evidence. A 2016 leak of records from a law firm based in Panama did suggest that associates known to be close to Putin held as much as $2 billion through offshore accounts.
The Russian president may well have reason to keep such details quiet. Opposition leader Alexei Navalny recently released a video that accused Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev of accepting more than $1 billion in bribes. The allegations sparked major protests in Russian cities.
Reuters reported in 2015 that Katerina Tikhonova, widely said to be the younger of Putin's two daughters, owned a seaside villa in Biarritz that was worth about $3.7 million at the time. She and her husband, Kirill Shamalov, the son of a friend of the Russian president, together were worth around $2 billion, the news agency reported.