They are two teenagers just fooling around in a series of homemade social media videos. The girl is slim with long, pale, brown hair and a pretty face that is strangely familiar.
The boy is dark-haired, good-looking and wears a Mona Lisa T-shirt.
In one sequence they dance, pose and pout to Vibe by the American artist Cookiee Kawaii, the viral soundtrack to 1.6 million other teenage TikTok films.
But this version is different. It is the only one to star the alleged ‘secret daughter’ of Russian president Vladimir Putin and her friend who, intriguingly, happens to be the nephew of a Mafia-linked tycoon, lives in a £4.5 million flat by the Royal Albert Hall in West London and attended a British public school. There is also an extraordinary twist concerning the south coast town of Bournemouth, as we shall see.
Her TikTok video with Robert Skigin
While Russia increasingly resembles the Soviet police state of old, the domestic circumstances of these two cosseted young people represents to many of its less fortunate citizens that which is rotten in the largest country in the world.
Over the past two weeks, thousands of demonstrators have been arrested across Russia, many beaten by police, after taking to the streets to protest at the detention last month of opposition activist Alexei Navalny.
Navalny, 44, was apprehended on his arrival from Germany, where he had been treated for a near-fatal dose of the nerve agent Novichok. He is adamant that the assassination attempt was carried out by agents of the Russian security services on the orders of autocratic ‘poisoner’ Putin.
The Kremlin claims such allegations are a CIA-orchestrated smear. U.S. president Joe Biden, in his first phone call to Mr Putin since his inauguration, raised the issue of Navalny’s arrest.
Look-alike: Putin aged 17 (left) and his alleged daughter (right)
To no avail. On Tuesday, the opposition leader was jailed for three and a half years by a Moscow court for allegedly violating the terms of a suspended sentence handed down for a previous embezzlement conviction that was widely seen by those outside the Kremlin as trumped-up.
Why does Putin consider the activist such a threat? Because Navalny had started to land serious — and personal — blows.
Shortly before he returned to Russia, Navalny posted on his YouTube channel a compelling investigative exposé — now viewed more than 100 million times — of what he describes as ‘the biggest robbery in the history of Russia’.
The film, Putin’s Palace: History Of The World’s Largest Bribe, focuses on the 17,691 sq m Italianate mansion that has been built north of Sochi on the Black Sea coast. It is on an estate 39 times the size of the principality of Monaco, including vineyards, an underground ice-hockey arena, an ‘aqua disco’ and a wine-tasting room with a picture window, built into a cliff over a beach.
A no-fly zone has been imposed overhead and there is a 1 km (0.6-mile) exclusion zone out to sea. A lavatory brush imported from Italy for Putin’s private washroom in one of the attached wineries is said to have cost almost £700.
Navalny alleges that the still-unfinished $1 billion (£730 million) project is being paid for out of a slush fund established by the president’s ‘main wallets’ — a cabal of cronies whose relationships with Putin date back to the ‘wild ’90s’ of the last century.
For much of that decade, Putin was a senior official in the mayor’s office in his home city of St Petersburg — and the man responsible for signing off business contracts. One of his assistants was Alexey Miller, now the head of gas firm Gazprom, Russia’s biggest company. Other key Putin relationships go back further, to his time as a KGB officer. None of these associates are noticeably poor.
Putin has denied that the palace belongs to him. A childhood friend, the oligarch Arkady Rotenburg, 69, has claimed ownership. He says he plans to convert it into a hotel. Many observers take the Putin denial with a pinch of salt.
Navalny’s film also touched upon Putin’s so-called ‘secret family’ — extra-marital relationships with girlfriends he has kept from public view; women upon whom he has bestowed extraordinary wealth or unlikely positions of power.
Which brings us to the two teenagers on TikTok. The girl’s name is Elizaveta Krivonogikh, although she also calls herself Luiza Rozova — the surname is that of her maternal grandmother. She lives in St Petersburg and is a few weeks short of her 18th birthday. The circumstances of that birth are central to this story.
Her mother, Svetlana, was born in 1975 and brought up in a crumbling pre-Soviet communal apartment block in the city. Five families shared a kitchen and bathroom.
Svetlana grew into a beautiful young woman who earned a living as a cleaner in a local store. Then her life changed suddenly. And the change took her to the UK.
Living the high life: Elizaveta’s mother Svetlana
On Thursday, Elizaveta posted two cryptic photographs on Instagram. They showed a large, brown envelope with an English postmark. On the back were the senders’ name and address — a couple called Mr and Mrs Huckle, from Bournemouth, Dorset. Elizaveta gave no explanation. The date she gave on the Instagram caption was 1997 — six years before her birth. Did it have something to do with her mother, Svetlana?
Yesterday, the Mail went to the address on the envelope and found that Mr and Mrs Huckle — Norman, a retired door maker, and his wife Barbara — live there still.
Mr Huckle confirmed that the writing on the envelope was theirs. They recalled Svetlana, a pretty 20-something Russian with a rich boyfriend, who came to stay more than two decades ago.
Mr Huckle said: ‘We needed the money so we had foreign-language students to stay. Svetlana was a real character, proper Russian. She stayed here for about two to three weeks in 1997 to study English.
‘She said she lived in the Hermitage in St Petersburg. [The Hermitage, now a museum, was the tsar’s Winter Palace.] When she saw we had a Russian car [a humble Lada] she said she drove a Mercedes-Benz convertible back home.
‘I had a feeling her family were something to do with the KGB as she got very defensive when I mentioned them. While she was staying, she went to Finland to see her boyfriend.’ Could this have been Mr Putin? Mr Huckle added: ‘She never told us his name but she said he was very ugly when she told him she wasn’t allowed to go. We worked out she meant very angry rather than ugly!
‘Any normal Russian wouldn’t have been allowed to go anywhere — but she was something special. She went to London and got on a plane to Finland.’
Svetlana’s meteoric rise continued. Before the age of 30, she had moved to an address on the exclusive Kamenny Island, a high-security gated community in which her neighbours are uber-rich, old-guard Putin chums.
She also became a shareholder — with a stake of around three per cent — of the Rossiya Bank. This was a Soviet-era institution that had been controlled by St Petersburg’s town hall before being revamped under Putin’s direction in the 1990s. It has since become one of Russia’s financial giants.
Svetlana also owns cultural venue the Leningrad Centre and a ski resort where, in 2013, President Putin’s daughter Katerina was married. Putin divorced her mother, Lyudmila, the following year. By then, Svetlana had acquired a 37 metre Italian-built luxury yacht, the Al’doga, which has been pictured being escorted by a Russian navy gunboat. In his film, Navalny says: ‘There are 20 million beggars in this country and he buys a yacht for his mistress.’
The Russian investigative website Proekt Media has reported that she is now worth around $100 million (£73 million). How did this happen?
Elizaveta was born in the first week of March 2003. She has hooded eyes, a concave curve to her nose, high cheekbones and forehead that together are reminiscent of Putin. Proekt Media claims to have spoken to those who say that Svetlana enjoyed a romantic relationship with him for several years from the late 1990s.
The website also claims to have seen official documents which show the teenager’s patronymic — a traditional middle name — to be Vladimirovna: the daughter of Vladimir. In that YouTube film, Navalny repeats Proekt Media’s claims of Putin’s paternity.
Her 37-metre Italian-built luxury yacht, the Al’doga
When the story first broke in Russia in November Mr Putin’s press secretary described it as ‘yellow journalism’ and ‘de facto unfounded’ without directly dismissing the claim.
The girl herself has declined to engage with those who have contacted her via the social media platforms to ask about her father’s identity. This week, in the wake of protests which saw more than 5,000 people arrested, she posted a picture of herself with an ambiguous ‘Make love, not war’ message.
So what of Elizaveta’s companion in the TikTok clips?
The Mail can reveal that he is one Robert Skigin, now 20. He is the nephew of ‘wild ’90’s’ St Petersburg business figure Dmitry Skigin, now dead, who worked alongside — or for — some of the city’s most powerful alleged organised crime bosses. And that official in the mayor’s office, Vladimir Putin.
There is nothing to suggest that Robert or his branch of the Skigin family benefited from Uncle Dmitry’s business dealings. But Dmitry’s story is instructive of what was happening in St Petersburg then.
He was behind a company exclusively supplying jet fuel in the 1990s to St Petersburg airport, a deal allegedly negotiated with Mr Putin in return for the future president receiving a four per cent share in the company.
He became co-owner of the new Petersburg Oil Terminal (POT) and was, allegedly, part of the consortium that won the contract to manage the city’s sea port. The success of that consortium — alleged Max Freidzon, a former colleague of Skigin, in an unsuccessful U.S. court case — involved a ‘bloody struggle for control’ that had seen the ‘assassinations’ of a business rival and a city official.
In 1998, Putin became head of the FSB — the Russian domestic secret service. Within two years, he would be president.
For his part, Dmitry Skigin relocated to Monaco, from where he was expelled in 2000 for suspected money laundering. He would die of cancer three years later, leaving a personal estate said to be worth 600 million euros (£526 million).
Dmitry had one brother, Vladimir, who is now a real estate mogul. His son, Robert, was educated at the £39,000 a year Cranleigh School in Surrey. According to Land Registry documents, the apartment in Kensington, West London, where Robert is listed on the electoral roll is owned by his mother, Olga.
When the Mail went to his Kensington address this week, neighbours said they had not seen Robert or his mother ‘for some time’. Nor was there anyone at two other London addresses linked to the Skigin family. Social media posts suggest Robert, now a student at London’s Courtauld Institute of Art, is back in St Petersburg.
But the Mail reached cousin Mikhail, chairman of the POT board. He said: ‘I don’t know anything about his connections . . . My uncle Vladimir is in real estate in St Petersburg. It should be noted that we do not have or have ever had any common business with him.’
A spokesman for Mikhail said of the TikTok videos: ‘[He] heard about Ms Krivonogikh for the first time two months ago on the internet. He has never had any contact with her or her family.’
Elizaveta continues to post on Instagram. But much of the feedback she gets is hostile. One post said: ‘Girl, don’t you get it that hatred of people to your father is so big that you will be literally torn into pieces. [Putin] does not have much time left. And you are flashing your gold. In your place I would have deleted this account.’
For the time being, Elizaveta, the alleged daughter of the ‘world’s richest man’, continues to dance.