Lyudmila Aleksandrovna Ocheretnaya was the beloved wife of Vladimir Putin for three decades. They met in Leningrad, got married in 1983, and moved to East Germany – where her husband worked as a KGB spy.
When the Iron Curtain collapsed, they returned to Russia where Vladimir began his remarkable rise to become one of the world’s most powerful individuals – if not the world!
But as Vladimir took control of Moscow, Lyudmila Aleksandrovna Ocheretnaya became less and less visible to the public eye. Rumors in the Russian press suggested she had been taken away to a monastery. In June 2013, they attended a Kremlin production of “La Esmeralda,” where during intermission they announced to reporters their impending divorce.
Since then, Russians have heard little about Lyudmila. Putin’s press secretary refused to answer inquiries about her life, while the Kremlin biography of Russia’s president deleted all mention of her.
Nonetheless, many ordinary Russians remain fascinated with her story – eager to discover what became of the woman who may have become closer to Putin than anyone else.
Four years on and details about Lyudmila’s new life are beginning to surface. Instead of remaining at a remote monastery, she appears to be planning an extravagant lifestyle at a European villa with her new husband – 20 years her junior.
These new revelations provide not only a rare look into Putin’s family, which is rarely mentioned in official accounts and often the subject of tabloid speculation, but also provide an indication of the wealth critics claim he and those close to him have acquired over recent years.
Last year, the Russian news website Sobesednik broke the story of Lyudmila Aleksandrovna Ocheretnaya and Artur Ocheretny’s new relationship.
Documents apparently showing her remarrying and changing her last name to that of her new husband were published this weekend by the Starhit website, with photos appearing to show the couple at Heathrow Airport in London.
Wednesday, the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) published an article that suggested Ocheretny owned a “mini-palace” in Anglet village near Biarritz in southern France that is worth up to $7.46 million and under renovation. The villa had been purchased six months after the Putins announced their divorce, according to OCCRP’s report.
One local resident told a reporter from OCCRP that Art deco villa was an iconic landmark, unaware that Artur Ocheretny was its legal owner. “Everyone here knows,” they were quoted as saying.
Lyudmila’s marriage appears to have had a happy ending. Although accounts of their long marriage weren’t always flattering, she is said to have struggled with her harsher husband. As Nataliya Gevorkyan, a biographer of Putin, put it: “She was a woman who loved and was not loved.”
But the OCCRP’s discovery of Lyudmila’s luxury villa in France also raised questions about her new husband and how they could afford such an opulent residence.
Artur Ocheretny is the director of the nonprofit organization Center for Development of Interpersonal Communications, best known for its close connection to Lyudmila; prior to that, he worked at an event agency often dealing with government clients.
According to OCCRP research, Russian non-governmental organization directors typically don’t receive high salaries and none of Ocheretny’s businesses appear to have been successful so far.
Lyudmila is not officially wealthy either. Prior to her divorce, she had to declare both her assets and income; however, she never disclosed much.
Vladimir Putin’s own declarations are similarly sparse – he lists only a $147,000 salary plus limited assets such as a Moscow apartment, a plot of land, and three cars in his 2015 statement.
There has long been speculation that Putin and those close to him are significantly wealthier than they appear. Some estimates for Putin’s personal fortune range up to $200 billion, though this number has never been confirmed.
A 2016 leak of records from a law firm based in Panama did suggest associates known to Putin held as much as $2 billion through offshore accounts.
The Russian president may well have reason to keep these details quiet. Opposition leader Alexei Navalny recently released a video accusing Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev of accepting more than $1 billion in bribes, leading to major protests across Russian cities.
In 2015, Reuters reported that Katerina Tikhonova – widely believed to be the younger of Putin’s two daughters – owned a seaside villa in Biarritz worth approximately $3.7 million. She and her husband Kirill Shamalov, son of a friend of Putin, together had an estimated net worth of around $2 billion, according to the news agency.