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Russian media outlets trod a cautious line Friday in response to US Weekly‘s report that Rupert Murdoch’s ex-wife Wendi Deng was dating Russian President Vladimir Putin.
In a country where open speculation about Putin’s private life can court trouble, and even arrest, Russian reporters refused to speculate on the truth behind the unsourced story, which cites an unnamed “insider” who claims Putin and Deng are in a “serious” relationship.
Though Deng and Putin have yet to be photographed together in a romantic tryst, US Weekly notes the ex-Mrs. Murdoch was seen boarding Roman Abramovich’s yacht in St. Bart’s on Monday, March 28. The billionaire Abramovich, owner of Chelsea soccer club, is a close friend of the Russian President.
Web magazine Russian Dialog called the report a sign of “an information war” launched by U.S. media against Vladimir Putin.
Putin’s private life has been off-limits to the Russian press throughout his time in office. In 2008, newspaper Moscow Correspondent broke a story about Putin’s alleged romance with Alina Kabayeva, a Russian gymnast and Olympic champion. The newspaper was promptly shut down.
In a surprise public move, Putin and Ludmila, his wife of 30 years, announced their divorce live on state TV in 2014. The move was clearly stage-managed, with Putin responding to a question from a Russian journalist as his wife stood uncomfortably by his side.
Murdoch, 85, filed for divorce from Deng, 47, in June 2013 after 14 years of marriage, reportedly due in part to suspicions she had begun an affair with former British Prime Minister Tony Blair. Speaking to The Hollywood Reporter, a Blair spokesperson flatly denied the affair.
Although the Russian president has carefully cultivated a macho image — frequently pictured riding bare-chested or diving for ancient artifacts — he has always been extremely guarded about his private life.
The US Weekly story coincided with the publication of a report on Thursday by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) on Putin’s inner circle.
According to the report, businessman Grigory Baevsky, who is linked to Putin’s long-time friend Arkady Rotenberg, purchased luxury real estate for Putin’s daughter, for the sister and grandmother of Kabayeva, and, more surprisingly, for 23-year-old Alisa Kharcheva, a girl who was featured in an erotic calendar dedicated to Putin’s birthday several years ago and has expressed her admiration for the president ever since.
Even before the publication of the OCCRP report, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said it was likely to contain “deliberately false allegations” and threatened to sue its authors.
In an emailed comment, April 4, an official from the Kremlin press office told THR: “There is no truth in the story published in US Weekly stating that the President of Russia is in a relationship with Wendi Deng.”
April 4, 8:35 am Updated with statement from Kremlin press office.
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