Vera Putina, Georgian woman who claimed to be Vladimir Putin’s biological mother – obituary

Vera Putina in 2008 - Kate Weinberg
Vera Putina in 2008 - Kate Weinberg

Vera Putina, who has died aged 96, emerged from obscurity in 1999 claiming to be the biological mother of Vladimir Putin, whom she claimed to have abandoned when he was a child.

In his “quasi-autobiography” First Person, Putin wrote that he was born and brought up in St Petersburg, the sole surviving son of Maria, a menial worker, and Vladimir Putin, a factory worker and ex-serviceman who had served in Stalin’s secret police during the Second World War. Both parents, he claimed, died of cancer in the late 1990s.

But independently verified details of his childhood have always been extraordinarily difficult to come by; the primary source for most anecdotes is Putin himself. As a result the Kremlin was never able to refute Vera Putina’s claims conclusively.

Vera Nikolaevna Putina was born on September 6 1926 in the Russian district of Ochyorsk. She claimed that while studying agricultural mechanisation at university she fell in love with Platon Privalov, a mechanic, by whom she became pregnant, only to discover that her lover was already married and intended to steal the baby because his wife was unable to conceive.

Vera Putina with a photograph of her son 'Vova' - Kate Weinberg
Vera Putina with a photograph of her son 'Vova' - Kate Weinberg

She claimed that her son, nicknamed “Vova”, was born on October 7 1950 – exactly two years before Vladimir Putin’s official birth date – and she brought him up in the poverty-stricken Georgian village of Metekhi, an hour’s drive from the capital Tbilisi.

Local records are said to indicate that a Vladimir Putin was registered at a nearby school between 1959 and 1960 and in 2008 a local former teacher, Shura Gabinashvili claimed in an interview with The Daily Telegraph that she had given him Russian language lessons. “He loved Russian fables and Russian was his favourite subject,” she said. “He also liked fishing and wrestling.”

When Vera married Giorgi Osepahvili, a Georgian soldier, with whom she had other children, he insisted that she abandon her first-born, so she sent him, aged nine, to live with her parents in Russia. A year later, however, the boy’s grandfather took him to an orphanage.

Vera later surmised that Putin’s St Petersburg “parents”, who were both in their 40s when Putin was born, and whose two older sons had died in childhood, had adopted her son.

Vera somehow discovered that her son had joined the KGB, but thought she would never see him again. But in 1999, watching news reports about Russia’s newly appointed prime minister on her new television, she immediately recognised Vladimir Putin as her son because he “walked like a duck”.

Claims that the Kremlin was trying to suppress her story gained traction from the fact that two journalists who had plans to interview her died in mysterious circumstances. The first, Russian Artyom Borovik, a prominent Kremlin critic who was working at the time on a documentary about Putin’s childhood, died in an plane crash at Sheremetyevo International Airport on March 9 2000. The second, the Italian journalist Antonio Russo, was murdered later the same year while covering the Second Chechen War.

The Russian-American historian Yuri Felshtinsky, co-author of The Corporation, Russia and the KGB in the Age of President Putin (2009) has suggested that Vera Putina’s story might explain why the Russian president was so devoted to the KGB and its successor, the FSB: “Deprived of parental warmth in his childhood, Putin turned to the KGB first and foremost to find a new family and to settle scores with the world that had injured him.”

Vera offered to do a DNA test to prove her story, but when she spoke to The Daily Telegraph in 2008, Russia had just launched a large-scale invasion of Georgia in a dispute over the breakaway state of South Ossetia. “I used to be proud of having a son who became President of Russia,” she said. “Since the war, I am ashamed.”

Vera Putina, born September 6 1926, death announced May 31 2023

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