Viktora Davydova, the new editor of Russian Vogue, has made a bold decision that probably will land her on Prime Minister Putins naughty list this Christmas. Staring out from the cover of the January 2011 issue of Russian Vogue, in a $33,000 gold Balmain gown, hands on her hips, is former rhythmic Olympic gymnast and alleged former mistress of Russias PM Vladimir Putin, Alina Kabayeva.

Russia Vogue January 2011 cover


Alina Kabaeva

And, even more apparent, some words are risquely positioned on the page between her legs the text reads Her Main Victory.

The latest cover of Russian Vogue has stirred up a storm of political gossip. The choice is bold because there can only be one reason to feature the faded sports star in a gold Balmain dress: her notoriety as the subject of persistent rumours that she is the mistress of Vladimir Putin, the country’s autocratic Prime Minister. Putin recently denied a newspaper report that he has left his wife Ludmila, with whom he has two daughters, for Kabayeva.

While there is no substantive evidence that 58- year -old Putin is romantically linked to Kabayeva, who also happens to be an MP for his ruling United Russia party, the alleged affair has long been the hottest gossip topic among Russia’s elite.

Putin has angrily claimed that there is “not one word of truth” in any of the allegations, while Kabayeva’s spokesperson has refused to discuss what she derided as “nonsense”.

The PM has worked for years to extinguish rumors of a romance with Ms.Kabayeva, which arose first when he asked for a private audience with her, after she returned with a bronze medal from the 2000 Sydney Olympic games.

Putin & Alina

In the 2004 Athens Olympic Games, Kabaeva finished the top score with a total 53.300 points after two events -- ball and hoop.

Former world champion Alina Kabaeva in 2006

The rumors gained prominence in 2008, when the barely-known Moskovsky Korrespondent tabloid, a Russian newspaper owned by billionaire oligarch Alexander Lebedev, published a story on April 12th that PM Putin had secretly divorced his wife and was planning to marry Kabayeva on June 15, the day Russia would celebrate the Holy Trinity. Lebedev closed down the newspaper to appease Mr. Putin. After, of course, they retracted the story and said they had no facts to back-up their claims.

The two have subsequently been photographed together at official functions, apparently getting on well. Tongues began quietly wagging again when in 2009 Ms. Kabayeva gave birth to a son and no father has been publicly revealed. Bloggers claimed that Kabayevas son is Putin’s love child.

In 2008, a Moscow agency claimed it had been approached to plan the couple’s wedding – which came as an unwelcome surprise to former air hostess Lyudmila Shkrebneva, Putin’s wife since 1983, the year of Kabayeva’s birth. Putin has rarely been seen in public with his wife in recent years, citing a heavy workload.

Putin’s grip on Russian media is almost total. And no Russian newspaper will report anything at all about Putin’s two daughters though both are adults.

Of course, truly paranoid Kremlinologists will be wondering if the cover might actually have been sanctioned from on high as a way of preparing the Russian public for a more prominent public role for Kabayeva.

After all, she recently found herself elevated to the Russian parliament, or Duma, where she represents the staunchly pro-Kremlin Party of United Russia. Who knows how high she can go?

Alina Kabayeva is a former rhythmic Olympic gymnast