Putin's 'mistress' features on cover of Vogue Russia

The 27-year-old former rhythmic Olympic gymnast Alina Kabayeva, wearing a gold Balmain dress with her hands on her hips, will feature on the front cover of Vogue's January 2011 edition, 'The Daily Telegraph' reported.

The decision to put Kabayeva on Vogue Russia's front cover was taken by the magazine's new editor Viktoria Davydova who has courted controversy given the fact that Putin recently denied a newspaper report that he has left his wife Ludmila, with whom he has two daughters, for Kabayeva.

While there is no substantive evidence that 58- year -old Putin is romantically linked to Kabayeva, who also happens to be an MP for his ruling United Russia party, the alleged affair has long been the hottest gossip topic among Russia's elite.

The rumour first came to public prominence in 2008 when a Russian newspaper, owned by billionaire oligarch Alexander Lebedev, quoted a source as insisting the story was absolutely true.

Lebedev shut the newspaper down soon afterwards claiming it had not been a commercial success though many suspected the real reason was to appease an angry Putin. The rumours later escalated when bloggers claimed that Kabayeva had subsequently given birth to Putin's love child.

Putin has angrily claimed that there is "not one word of truth" in any of the allegations, while Kabayeva's spokesperson has refused to discuss what she derided as "nonsense".

Putin has rarely been seen in public with his wife Ludmila in recent years, citing a heavy workload. He married Ludmila, a former air hostess, in 1983, the same year as Miss Kabayeva was born.

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