MOSCOW -- At the high-profile St. Petersburg International Economic Forum earlier this month, the head of Moscow State University's Center for the National Intellectual Reserve, Katerina Tikhonova, gave a six-minute speech by video link about using "breakthrough technologies" to boost investment.
On the sidelines of the same event, genetics researcher Maria Vorontsova gave a 13-minute interview on rare diseases that was broadcast on national television:
Both events would have slipped by unremarked in the crowded program of the three-day forum, except for the fact that the two women are reported to be the daughters of authoritarian Russian President Vladimir Putin.
No one asked either of the women at the St. Petersburg forum about the matter, and the only hint of their identities came when the moderator of Tikhonova's panel referred to her as "Katerina Vladimirovna."
Toward the end of Tikhonova's panel discussion in St. Petersburg, the moderator cracked a joke when Tikhonova was speaking. This prompted another panelist -- Justice Minister Konstantin Chuichenko -- to shush him and warn him not to interrupt her, The Washington Post reported.
"They have already come of age," Kremlin-connected political analyst Sergei Markov told RFE/RL. "They hold fairly serious professional positions. They have their own ambitions…. They want to present themselves before elite society as independent personalities."
The St. Petersburg forum, Markov added, was the ideal place to do this because it is practically a "family event" for Putin and the city natives in his inner circle.
"It is not a secret that Russia is ruled by people from St. Petersburg, and this is a major forum in Russia that was created by people from St. Petersburg," he said. "It is a forum for the ruling elite of Russia, a forum of St. Petersburg people held in St. Petersburg.... So it was logical for members of the family to appear at such a 'family' forum."
Tikhonova and Vorontsova have raised their public profiles somewhat in recent years, but the appearances at the St. Petersburg forum have taken their public presence to a new level, prompting speculation that the country could be seeing more of them in the future.
"Why bring these purported daughters of Putin to such an event, and what was the point of them speaking publicly?" said analyst Andrei Kolesnikov of the Carnegie Moscow Center. "Either they were being used by lobbyists for their own purposes, as one might think especially from the appearance of Katerina Tikhonova, or they just thought it would be interesting to show the external media what Putin's daughters say and think and look like.
"Maybe this is just a little drawing back of the curtain without identifying the real functions of the president's daughters. Maybe this is a foretaste of some sort of emergence onto the big stage."
In addition, the public appearance of his purported daughters could be an effort to further boost Putin's own image. Many members of Russia's ruling elite have been criticized because their children and other relatives studied or lived abroad, whereas Putin's daughters have reportedly remained largely in Russia.
"This reflects positively on the president's image," Kolesnikov said. "His daughters are so businesslike and are involved in such different careers. One is practically a doctor and the other -- well, it isn't very clear what she does, but she also is doing something complicated and is speaking publicly about something to do with investments."
Tikhonova's appearance at the forum may have been a bid to boost the prestige of Kirill Dmitriyev, who was also on her panel. Dmitriyev is the head of the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RFDI) and is sometimes mentioned as a possible successor to Putin. He and his wife, Russian state television figure Natalya Popova, have long been closely connected with Tikhonova and her former husband, billionaire Kirill Shamalov. Tikhonova and Popova reportedly studied at university together.
Dmitriyev, who was educated at Stanford and Harvard, made international headlines in March 2017 when it was reported that he had met secretly in the Seychelles with the founder of the U.S. private security firm Blackwater, Erik Prince, two months earlier. Prince denied media reports that he had ties to the transition team of President-elect Donald Trump and that he and Dmitriyev discussed the creation of a "back channel" of communications between the two countries.
I never discuss my family with anyone. Every person has a right to their fate. They live their own lives and do it with dignity."-- Russian President Vladimir Putin
"Kirill Dmitriyev is often named among the possible successors to Vladimir Putin," said Sergei Yezhov, a journalist with The Insider website. "It is not a secret that he is friends with the family. We know that he was at the wedding of Katerina Tikhonova and Kirill Shamalov."
Analyst Kolesnikov said Dmitriyev's role at RFDI is extremely important for Putin's system of government.
"He is useful in a practical way because he closes all these deals with the participation of the government," Kolesnikov said. "It turns out that the main player is always the government -- otherwise our system of state-dominated capitalism wouldn't work. The government concludes the deals or allows the deals to happen. The government creeps into deals for its own benefit.
"And so this man, who isn't a minister and doesn't have a particularly high-profile position in the administration, becomes an extremely powerful person from the point of view of cash flows that the powerful want to go here or there and in the realization of various projects that are important to the government.
"This completely matches Putin's conception of how an economy should work," he concluded.
Officially, Putin has two children, the daughters from his marriage with Lyudmila Putina. Maria Putina (believed to be Maria Vorontsova) was born in Leningrad in April 1985, and Yekaterina Putina (believed to be Katerina Tikhonova) was born in August 1986 in Dresden, in then-East Germany. Putin has declined to discuss them, except to say that they live and work in Russia.
"I never discuss my family with anyone," Putin said during his annual end-of-the-year marathon press conference in 2015. "Every person has a right to their fate. They live their own lives and do it with dignity."
Putin and his wife divorced in 2014.
At the same event in 2017, Putin announced that he had two grandsons but did not provide details, except to say that one was "already in kindergarten" and the other was born "recently."
In 2020, the website Proyekt published a report alleging that Putin had another daughter, Yelizaveta, who was born in 2003, from an affair with a woman named Svetlana Krivonogikh.
According to Russian media reports, Putin also has a daughter (born in 2015) and twin sons (2019) with former gymnast and State Duma Deputy Alina Kabayeva. Putin has never confirmed the long-rumored relationship with Kabayeva.