Kremlin supporters and opponents are bickering online following Reuters' publication of an extensive investigation into the lives and fortunes of Russian President Vladimir Putin's two daughters.
The news agency confirmed longstanding rumors that his youngest daughter goes by the name of Katerina Tikhonova, and detailed her involvement with Moscow State University (MGU) after an extensive search of public records. According to the documents, she signed contracts worth about $2.8 million with state-owned organizations so that the institutions she manages could carry out work at the university. The projects are aimed at enlarging and improving the Moscow State University campus.
According to Reuters, Tikhonova has also identified herself as a "spouse" of Kirill Shamalov, the son of Nikolai Shamalov, who is a shareholder in Bank Rossia. The company is often described as the "personal bank of the Russian elite."
The young couple is believed to have corporate holdings worth about $2 billion, Reuters reported.
In addition to two anonymous sources, Reuters cited Andrey Akimov, deputy chairman of Russian lender Gazprombank, as confirming to the news organization that Tikhonova was, in fact, Putin's daughter.
Akimov is one of the investors in the projects headed by Tikhonova at the university. "I knew it was Putin's daughter. But of course we took the decision to support [MGU's] projects irrespective of any family connections," he told Reuters.
The day the investigation was published, Gazprombank denied that Akimov made any statements regarding Tikhonova's relationship to Putin.
"Akimov … was surprised and bewildered when he read the report by the Reuters news agency in which he is credited with the statement that … Ms. Tikhonova, is supposedly the daughter of the President of the Russian Federation," the November 10 statement read. "It is not so."
Katerina Tikhonova's connections
Many pro-Russia social media users expressed doubt about the report.
"The Reuters agency planted the information that Tikhonova is Putin's daughter. They probably have few visitors, causing them to spread such a lie," a Twitter user wrote:
"Even Peskov and the chairman of Gazprom [sic] denied that Tikhonova is Putin's daughter, does anybody really believe this rumor?" tweeted another man:
Citing Gazprombank Deputy Chairman Akimov's denials, presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov has refuted Reuters' findings.
Some, however, joked that Akimov's denial wasn't voluntary.
"I didn't say that she was Putin's daughter, said Akimov, as he rubbed a mark from an iron on his chest," wrote one Twitter user sarcastically:
The anti-Kremlin Twittersphere, however, was angry to learn about Tikhonova's assets.
"Even Putin's daughter is a billionaire! The man is successful at everything!" read one tweet:
Some connected the scandal to presidential spokesman Peskov, who just months ago himself got into hot water over a $620,000 watch that his wife, former Olympic ice skating champion Tatiana Navka, claimed to have given him as a wedding gift. The Twitterati suggested that Peskov's wife had something to do with Tikhonova's wealth as well.
"Actually, it was Navka who gave Putin's daughter $2 billion after getting drunk at the wedding," this blog tweeted:
Some anti-Kremlin bloggers joked that the investigation wouldn't influence any aspect of life in Russia, where the government is highly skilled at spinning news and allegations against it in a good light.
"Vladimir Vladimirovich, is it true that's your daughter... I see you deliberately avoid talking about the size of the U.S. national debt," says this tweet:
On that score, there is a Twitter account with the handle, "U.S. national debt." Every day it publishes what the debt amounts to in Russian rubles. However, on the day the Reuters' investigation was released, the account calculated that the U.S. national debt amounted to "9,305 Putin daughters.":
The Russian Twittersphere didn't let Maria, Putin's oldest daughter, fade away either. She is married to a Dutch national and uses his last name, Faasen, according to Reuters. The news agency's investigative report says she is a PhD candidate at the Endocrinology Research Center in Moscow, where she has co-authored five studies published in the last two years.
The revelation prompted jokes about Putin's height -- rumored to be anywhere from 157 to 170 centimeters -- one user alluded to a study on idiopathic stunted growth co-authored by Faasen.
"Putin's elder daughter Maria Faasen wrote a book about her dad," wrote a Twitter user:
Little has been publicly reported about the president's children until recently. The older daughter, Maria, was born in the Soviet Union in 1985. Katerina was born in 1986 in Dresden, East Germany, where Putin worked for the KGB from 1985 to 1990.
Rumors about the adult lives of Maria and Katerina began surfacing in January 2015. Well-known Russian blogger Oleg Kashin wrote that Maria was making a career for herself at Moscow State University under the name Tikhonova, presumably derived from her grandmother's patronymic Tikhonovna.
Following Kashin's allegation, Tikhonova was often referred to as "Putin's daughter" in quotation marks, as doubts lingered. Reuters appeared to confirm Kashin's findings in its investigation released on November 10, adding more information about her personal life and wealth.
Reuters has stood by its story despite Akimov's denials.