One morning on the first weekend of March, the residents of the Amsterdam suburb of Duivendrecht were surprised to see the Ukrainian flag hung on a fence on a grassy plot of undeveloped land. On a nearby mailbox, a sticker read “AveMariaPutin,” along with a printed sign in English.
"Less than 2,000 kilometers from your peaceful area there is a free country that your father is destroying. It is impossible to reach him, even an executioner cannot stop him, but parents and children are a different story. Please listen to your heart to reach out to his heart and stop this senseless suffering. We beg you, Maria Putina."
The owner of the plot of land was a 42-year-old Dutch citizen -- a construction engineer named Jorrit Faassen, who told a Dutch investigative website on March 12 that he hasn’t been to his homeland in 16 years and was living happily in Moscow.
"At one point I wanted to return to the Netherlands, but my life in Moscow suits me completely," he was quoted as telling the site, Follow The Money.
The reason Faassen is in Moscow is the woman who is widely believed to be -- or to have been -- his wife: Maria Vorontsova, the elder daughter of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Kept out of public view by the Kremlin when they were younger, Maria and her younger sister, Yekaterina Tikhonova, are the two children of Putin and his ex-wife, Lyudmila. They divorced in 2013.
The women have been under new scrutiny in recent years. This week, they were front-page news when they were hit with financial sanctions by the United States and the European Union -- punishment, the U.S. Treasury Department said, for “being the adult children of Putin, a person whose property and interests in property” were previously sanctioned.
Tikhonova’s marriage to the son of a close associate of Putin has been well documented over the years. Less so for Maria.
A joint investigation by Current Time and Meduza pulled back the curtain on Faassen, finding evidence of a Moscow address that he used to register the deed for the suburban Amsterdam plot. The investigation also found an address at a posh Moscow apartment complex near the Kremlin that was used to order food delivery for what appeared to be Maria and Faassen.
Faassen did not respond to questions sent to him via Telegram from Meduza and Current Time, although he did appear to receive them. Maria also ignored messages sent to her via Telegram.
In the interview with the Dutch newspaper, Faassen himself denied being married to Putin’s daughter.
“It’s absolutely wrong,” he was quoted as saying, although he said he did have a Russian wife. “I am married to a Russian woman. We have children."
However, one official close to Putin’s inner circle who knows Putin’s family told Current Time and Meduza that Faassen now felt trapped, given the tensions with Russia, and he feared returning to the Netherlands.
Maria, who has a medical degree from Moscow State University, has published scientific papers under the name Maria Faassen. She now uses the surname Vorontsova in public; that surname is listed in several of the sanctions lists released by the United States and the European Union.
It is not fully clear where the surname Vorontsova comes from. There is no record in the immediate family history for Putin or his ex-wife of the name Vorontsova. The surname of her sister, Tikhonova, appears to come from Lyudmila Putina's mother.
It’s not fully clear when Maria and Faassen met. А photograph posted on social media in the mid-2000s, and highlighted by the Russian online magazine New Times, shows Maria attending a costume carnival held in Leiden in honor of the Dutch queen. Leiden is Faassen’s hometown.
Another photograph, dated 2005, that was published in the Dutch newspaper Leidsch Dagblad showed Faassen posting a sign to a window in Leiden, with a woman who strongly resembles Maria (above).
In 2009, Leidsch Dagblad reported that Faassen and Maria had moved into a suburban penthouse condominium complex. City records showed Faassen paid 700,000 euros for the two-unit complex, whose named translates roughly as “the Crimean District.”
Neighbors told the newspaper that the couple could be seen shopping regularly at an upscale grocery market.
According to Dutch press reports, in the summer of 2008 Maria and Faassen held a wedding reception at a castle in Wassenaar, a fashionable suburb of The Hague. Witnesses who apparently attended the event were quoted as saying: "The bride's parents were not there, but her younger sister was."
A relative of Faassen’s, an artist named Casper Faassen, told Dutch reporters that one of the guests discussed the clubs that wealthy Russians like to go to.
Casper Faassen did not respond to queries from Current Time and Meduza.
Rublyovka Road Rage
On November 10, 2010, according to Russian news reports, a Dutch citizen named Jorrit Faassen was badly beaten up in a road-rage incident on a Moscow highway involving a Moscow banker named Matvei Urin.
Urin and his bodyguards were detained several hours after the assault by members of the Federal Protective Service, the elite Kremlin bodyguard agency that provides protection for Putin and other top government officials, along with then-Moscow police chief Vladimir Kolokoltsev, according to news reports from the time.
Kolokoltsev went on to become the Russian interior minister.
Urin served more than eight years in prison; the network of banks he owned or controlled was driven into bankruptcy. Urin’s driver and bodyguards also received sentences of two to four years in prison.
At the time, Russian news reports identified Faassen only as an executive with the state-controlled gas giant Gazprom. No media connected him to Putin’s daughter until 2016, when New Times reported their connection.
Urin’s defense lawyer refused to comment when contacted by Current Time and Meduza. However, a lawyer for Urin’s driver described how unusual some of the court proceedings were.
“Somehow it was immediately clear that [Faassen] was not a simple person. There were rumors that he had patrons in the FSB,” the lawyer said, asking to remain anonymous for security purposes. The FSB is the Federal Security Service, which Putin headed in 1998-99.
In 2011, the Russian newspaper Vedomosti reported he was a real estate management specialist with Gazprombank-Invest, a unit of the Gazprom gas company, then later became vice president of Stroytransgaz, another Gazprom subsidiary. He was given a 60-square-meter office and a personal Lexus,the newspaper said.
According to one person acquainted with Putin’s inner circle of friends and colleagues, Faassen and Maria spent several months of each year in the Netherlands until July 2014, when Russia-backed separatists used a Russian-delivered anti-aircraft missile to shoot down a Malaysia Airlines passenger jet flying over eastern Ukraine.
Of the 298 people killed on board, 198 were Dutch citizens. The Netherlands has conducted a criminal trial where prosecutors have shown wiretaps and other forensic evidence pointing to the complicity of Russian military personnel.
After that, according to the person, who asked to remain anonymous, Putin allegedly insisted that his daughter and his grandson live full-time in Russia.
“Faassen was not ready for such a life, but there was no choice,” said one acquaintance.
In 2014, Faassen joined a construction company called RG-Development, according to a company employee who asked to remain anonymous. The company was established the previous year by Arkady Rotenberg, a close friend and longtime confidant of Putin.
Faassen was tapped to head a major development project -- the construction of the headquarters of the state-run oil giant Rosneft, on Moscow’s famed Kutuzovsky Prospekt, the company employee said.
But the financial crisis that ensued when Western countries imposed sanctions on Russia for annexing Ukraine’s Crimea Peninsula put a halt to that project.
Mikhail Leontyev, a Rosneft spokesman, did not answer questions from Meduza and Current Time about the project.
Faassen himself was employed at RG-Development until 2018, receiving a monthly salary of 900,000 rubles ($11,200 at today's exchange rate), according to a database of personal tax information that was leaked online. The reasons for his departure were not immediately clear.
Among the Dutch diaspora community in Moscow, Faassen is known but is rarely seen, for example at social events or national holiday parties that are organized by the Dutch community.
“He always distanced himself as much as possible from our gatherings, didn’t go anywhere, and almost didn’t communicate with anyone,” says one Dutch citizen who has permanent residency in Russia.
In 2020, Russian reporters, including from Meduza, discovered a database of e-mails that had been stolen by hackers and uploaded to a hacker forum. Included in the database, which contained millions of e-mail addresses, was correspondence from Kirill Shamalov, whose father is a longtime friend of Putin and who previously sat on the board of Bank Rossia, which the U.S. Treasury Department has called “the personal bank for senior officials in the Russian Federation.”
Until their reported divorce in 2018, Shamalov was also married to Maria’s younger sister, Yekaterina Tikhonova.
In the correspondence, there are e-mails that show Shamalov sending Faassen a copy of an airline ticket to Amsterdam in May 2011. Another shows an invitation from Shamalov to Faassen to the wedding that Shamalov and Tikhonova held in 2013. A list of wedding guests that was included in the hacked e-mail database also shows the names of Jorrit Faassen and Maria Vorontsova.
For many years, on social media platforms like Facebook and Telegram, Faassen used a pseudonym: Peter Orno. On VK, he uses another pseudonym, Peter De Grote, which translates as Peter the Great.
In August 2018, Faassen competed in an Ironman triathlon in Austria. An official photograph taken by the race organizers showed Faassen running in an athletic wetsuit, apparently near the finish line of the race.
Current Time and Meduza reports also uncovered evidence that suggests Faassen and Maria had a son, who would be Vladimir Putin’s grandson.
According to records of a “Starkids” running race held in 2021 and published online, the surname of a participant was given as Faassen, born in August 2012. The boy was identified as “representing the Netherlands” in the race records.
The official connected to Putin’s inner circle told Meduza and Current Time that Faassen feared going back to the Netherlands given the animosity there toward the Kremlin and Putin.
“If Faassen returns to Europe, he will definitely not feel at ease there. He has fallen into Putin’s inner circle, articles are being written about him, journalists are calling him and his relatives, so it is impossible for him to return to the Netherlands,” the person said.
Yandex Food Deliveries
The exact legal relationship between Faassen and Maria is murky. There is no evidence of a marriage certificate in Russia for the couple.
Reporters have been unable to locate a marriage record for the couple in the Netherlands, as well. However, in a 2019 Dutch real estate record, Faassen declared he was “unmarried.”
Regardless, according to Current Time and Meduza’s findings, Faassen and Maria are no longer together.
In 2017, Maria had a child with a Russian man named Yevgeny Nagorny, according to two people who spoke to Current Time and Meduza and to an online air passenger database, whose details were reviewed by Current Time and Meduza.
A former law student who later worked as a custom broker, Nagorny later joined Novatek, Russia’s largest private natural-gas company.
In 2020, Russian public records show, Nagorny bought a luxury apartment -- with three bedrooms, four bathrooms, a library, a wood-burning fireplace, and other amenities -- a residence estimated by Current Time to cost at least 280 million rubles ($3.5 million at today's exchange rate).
According to a database of e-mails and phone numbers that hackers accessed from the food delivery courier service Yandex Food, Nagorny’s apartment received nine separate food deliveries between October 2021 and January 2022 under the name “Yury” -- which is a Russian nickname Faassen is known by, similar to Jorrit. The phone number used for the food deliveries belonged to Faassen.
Another food delivery to the same apartment was made with a phone number belonging to a member of the Federal Protective Service, the Kremlin bodyguard agency. A search of a phone number using an online “look-up” service showed the number registered to "Maria's assistant" or "Masha's adjutant.” Masha is a nickname for Maria.
Another database leak containing information on customers from a delivery service showed the name Maria Nagornaya, which would suggest Maria was using the surname of Yevgeny Nagorny.
Nagorny did not respond to messages from Current Time and Meduza seeking comment.