Theirs is a world of private jets, posh Parisian apartments, Austrian ski vacations and schooling at elite universities in London and New York.
Their parents own prime real estate on the most exclusive avenues of Europe’s capitals. Their social media profiles are filled with designer dresses and red-carpet events. One young woman posted photos of her 22nd birthday, poolside at the Adriatic Sea villa of one of Putin’s oligarchs.
Meet the kids of the Kremlin.
While their parents publicly rail against the West, their kids grow up in the very countries whose societies they claim to reject.
“It is obviously extreme hypocrisy,” said Daniel Treisman, a professor specializing in Russian politics at the University of California, Los Angeles.
“They may not even see a contradiction,” Treisman said. “They believe that there’s this competition between the US and Russia, but why should that affect their daughter’s educational plans? Or where they have their chateaus?”
Putin himself blasted Russians who may “mentally” align with the West in a speech last month, accusing them of thinking they are part of a “higher race” and working with the “collective West” toward one goal: “the destruction of Russia.”
“The Russian people will always be able to distinguish true patriots from scum and traitors and simply spit them out like a gnat that accidentally flew into their mouths,” Putin said.
One of the first families of alleged Russian corruption and hypocrisy is that of Dmitry Peskov, Vladimir Putin’s deputy chief of staff and chief spokesman – a role that makes him Putin’s loudest megaphone, one who on a near daily basis dispenses the Russian President’s hardline vitriol against the West.
The United States recently sanctioned Peskov, his wife and two adult children (from two previous marriages), stating that the family lives “luxurious lifestyles that are incongruous with Peskov’s civil servant salary and are likely built on the ill-gotten wealth of Peskov’s connections to Putin.” At least two of his children were largely raised in Western Europe before returning to Moscow as adults.
While the US Treasury didn’t spell out the questionable excesses, Peskov – who’s held his role for nearly a decade and reportedly made $173,000 in 2020 – has been seen wearing a $600,000 designer watch and went on a honeymoon that included a roughly $430,000-a-week yacht off the coast of Sardinia, according to an investigation by the Anti-Corruption Foundation founded by jailed Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny.
Based on property records, social media posts and traffic violation databases, the Anti-Corruption Foundation also revealed Peskov’s wife, ex-wife and children own luxury vehicles and multimillion-dollar homes all over the world – including Russia and France – a display of riches in stark contrast with the nearly 20 million Russians living in poverty.
The staggering, yet seemingly inexplicable, wealth of such families in Putin’s world, experts say, boils down to a single concept: kleptocracy.
“A kleptocracy is merely a government that is ruled by thieves,” said Georgetown University professor Jodi Vittori, an expert on corruption and global policy, “where the policies and decisions made are on behalf of those thieves.”
A complicated web of shell companies, offshore banks and hidden transactions often obscures their wealth, with accounts spirited away inside one another, making it complicated to trace where funds are coming from.
The wealth accumulated by Russian kleptocrats is frequently spent in Western economies.
“They want to live in the West because the richest countries in the world are in the West. The amazing centers of culture are in the West,” said Treisman. “But in addition, Western countries have a much more secure rule of law than Russia. So, if they’re able to get a lot of their money into the West, they can feel more secure.”
The hypocrisy of Russian officials and their families enjoying the largesse of the West has been an open secret in Russia for years. In 2016, a bill was introduced to the State Duma banning the education of minor children of most of Russia’s officials in foreign universities, claiming domestic education would be key to becoming true patriots. The bill didn’t pass.
Peskov’s 24-year-old daughter from his second marriage, Elizaveta Peskova – whose racy social media posts have often become the fodder of Russian and European tabloids – hasn’t shied away from limelight or controversy, like when she reportedly told a Russian TV outlet that she feels “better in the European environment” and called Russia’s education system a “true hell.”
More recently, she contradicted her father’s public statements by posting “no to war” to her Instagram stories, the slogan used by Russians opposing the war in Ukraine. The post was screenshotted and shared by the Russian outlet TV Rain, but was taken down quickly.
As a young child, Peskova reportedly attended the Ecole des Roches outside Paris – where the annual tuition is about a fourth of her father’s salary and extracurricular activities include aviation classes.
Peskova continued her Parisian education with an internship at Louis Vuitton and a marketing degree from a French business school. She even interned for the European Parliament.
According to the Anti-Corruption Foundation, Peskova and her mother bought a nearly $2 million, 180-square-meter apartment in 2016 in one of Paris’ most expensive neighborhoods, on Avenue Victor Hugo, squeezed between the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe and the lush Bois de Boulogne. CNN has not confirmed the purchase.
Peskova’s extravagance in France is paralleled by her half brother’s in Russia. A 2017 investigation by Navalny’s anti-corruption group found Nikolay Choles – Peskov’s eldest son who grew up in England – traveled the world in private jets, owned prime real estate in Moscow and raced his fleet of luxury vehicles through the city racking up as many as 116 traffic violations, while reportedly unemployed.
“It certainly represents a high level of at least cynicism, if not outright hypocrisy,” said Vittori, the Georgetown professor.
Peskova called the sanctions and the notion she is somehow enabling war “totally unfair and unfounded” and told Business Insider she’s “upset” because the restrictions keep her from traveling. In a statement on Telegram, Peskova wrote she is “proud” to be Russian and that sanctioning adult children and “especially a girl” is “crazy.” “There is hardly a fair trial,” she added, “during such a witch hunt and frenzied hatred of everything Russian.”
Peskova – who, when reached by CNN, did not engage on the details of this story by the time of publication – isn’t the only Kremlin-connected child enjoying continental high society.
Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who called for a “post-West” world order in 2017, sent his daughter to prestigious universities in London and New York.
Even the daughter of Lavrov’s purported girlfriend seemingly benefits from his influential position: She posted pictures of herself on the yacht, Austrian ski resort and beachside villa of a wealthy oligarch, according to the Anti-Corruption Foundation.
Polina Kovaleva – who the UK government refers to as Lavrov’s “stepdaughter” even though he’s not officially married to her mother – owns a $5.8 million apartment in one of London’s most expensive neighborhoods, according to recent sanctions imposed against her.
The Anti-Corruption Foundation revealed Kovaleva bought the Kensington apartment when she was 21 years old. The flat is walking distance to Imperial College, which she also attended.
Lavrov’s much less visible daughter, Ekaterina Vinokurova, now 39 years old, attended Columbia University in New York, where she lived for 17 years, before obtaining her graduate degree at the London School of Economics. Both Kovaleva and Vinokurova were recently sanctioned by the United Kingdom.
“This sends a strong signal that those benefiting from association of those responsible for Russian aggression are in scope of our sanctions,” UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss wrote in a news release announcing the sanctions against Kovaleva.
Putin himself is no exception to the hypocrisy of tough anti-Western rhetoric in the face of family members, or those close to him, taking advantage of what the West has to offer.
One of his purported partners, who allegedly bore him a daughter, became the owner of a $4.1 million apartment in Monaco just weeks after the child was born, according an investigation by Russian independent media outlet Proekt, based on the so-called Pandora Papers.
His eldest daughter, Maria, reportedly married a Dutch businessman; the couple is said to have lived in a $3.3 million apartment in the Netherlands. An eight-bedroom villa in Biarritz, France, linked to his younger daughter, Katerina – the multimillion-dollar mansion was bought by her former husband, Kirill Shamalov, from Putin’s longtime friend and billionaire Gennady Timchenko – was recently raided by activists and offered as a safe house to Ukrainian refugees.
Peskov called the new measures a “frantic tendency” by Washington to impose sanctions on Moscow. “Russia will respond without fail and will do so as it sees fit,” he added.
Putin is rumored to have more children out of wedlock, all of who appear to have lived in Western countries. These reports have always been denied by the Kremlin.
Despite his own family members’ connections to the West, Putin recently took aim at other Russians with “villas in Miami or the French Riviera, who cannot make do without foie gras, oysters or gender freedom as they call it.”
The problem with such people, Putin said on March 16, is that they are “over there in their minds and not here with our people and with Russia.”
Drew Griffin and Jeffrey Winter contributed to this report.