The Kremlin and top Russian officials have denied a Reuters report that identifies a 29-year-old woman running publicly funded projects connected to Moscow State University as President Vladimir Putin's younger daughter.
The report, published Tuesday, said Katerina Tikhonova was "emerging as a woman of influence in the next generation of Moscow’s elite."
"After unconfirmed media speculation about Katerina’s identity, a senior Russian figure told Reuters that she uses the surname Tikhonova," the news agency wrote. "Andrey Akimov, deputy chairman of Russian lender Gazprombank, said he had met Katerina when she was little and more recently, and that Tikhonova was Putin’s daughter."
The news agency reported that two senior academic sources — one at Moscow State University and a scientist with close contacts there — also confirmed that Tikhonova is Putin’s daughter.
Diagram showing how some sponsors and trustees of a project at Moscow University called Innopraktika are linked to Vladimir Putin and his family, image released Nov. 10, 2015.
Within hours of the report's publication, Gazprombank's Akimov was quoted as denying that he made those comments to Reuters.
The Reuters investigation identified Tikhonova's spouse as Kirill Shamalov, son of Nikolai Shamalov, a longtime friend of the Russian president and a shareholder in Bank Rossiya, which the U.S. Treasury Department has identified as "the personal bank for officials of the Russian Federation."
The news agency said that when it asked the Kremlin whether Tikhonova is the daughter of Putin and married to Kirill Shamalov, among other questions, it was told by presidential press secretary Dmitry Peskov that the Kremlin has "no information whatsoever" about her family connections, personal life or "involvement in particular projects."
The Reuters piece also refers to Putin’s elder daughter, Maria, saying she "has kept out of the spotlight even more than her sister," and that it "was unable to find any recent, confirmed photographs" of her.
According to the news agency, Tikhonova is in charge of three initiatives connected to the university: the National Intellectual Development Foundation, the National Intellectual Reserve Center and Innopraktika, which sponsors and supports young scientists. Among Innopraktika's trustees are major Russian power brokers, including Sergei Chemezov, the head of the state-owned technology corporation Rostec, and Igor Sechin, head of the state oil company Rosneft. Both of them, like Putin, were officials in the Soviet Union's KGB intelligence service.
Gazprombank's Akimov also is an Innopraktika trustee, but the Reuters investigation quoted him as saying the bank decided to support Moscow State University projects "irrespective of any family connections."
Later Tuesday, Gazprombank's press service said Akimov "with surprise and astonishment read the information of the respected news agency Reuters, which attributed to him the statement that the head of Innopraktika, Ms. Tikhonova, is allegedly the daughter of the president of the Russian Federation."
"Mr. Akimov did not make such statements and was very surprised that the journalists of such a reputable publication allowed not just a distortion of what was said, but a direct manipulation." The bank's press service added that neither Innopraktika's trustees nor other employees of Gazprombank have any information about Tikhonova's family ties.
After the piece was published Tuesday, Russia's Tass state news agency quoted Peskov as telling journalists: "I can refute the information that was stated by Reuters, because Reuters indicated that Akimov said that such and such a citizen is the daughter of Putin. This is something I can refute, based on his [Akimov's] rebuttal."
Peskov added: "As for ... who the daughters of Putin are, I can't tell you, because I do not have such information and should not have it; it's not part of my official duties."