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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

In the Spotlight: Celebrity Custody Battles

Confessional, tell-all interviews used to be about ex-lovers, not children. But recently, Russian celebrities have been casting reserve to the wind and giving us blow-by-blow accounts of their custody disputes.

This week, gym mogul Olga Slutsker talked of her painful custody dispute in Hello! magazine — posing next to poignant photographs of her two children and curling up on a sofa with a toy elephant.

Slutsker, a former fencing champion who built up the World Class gym empire, is divorcing acrimoniously from her husband, Vladimir Slutsker, a Federation Council senator. They have been married for 20 years and have two children — not that you would guess from Olga Slutsker’s shots in a minidress.

In June, Slutsker gave her first interview about the divorce to Nezavisimaya Gazeta, saying that she was barred from her house and from seeing her children. They are “surrounded by strangers, psychologists, my husband’s kabala students and armed guards,” she said.

GQ wrote in 2007 that the best conversational gambits to use with Olga Slutsker were healthy lifestyle and kabala, but apparently the kabala later lost its appeal. Vladimir Slutsker is a former president of the Russian Jewish Congress.

Things got ugly in July when a man calling himself Olga Slutsker’s former driver talked to an obscure web site called VIP Novosti. He alleged that she went out every night and swore all the time. Scandalously, he also claimed that a top official at Gazprom Neft was her lover.

In the latest interview, Olga Slutsker says that she still hasn’t seen or spoken to her children, aged 10 and 5, since June.

She blamed her husband for spoiling them, saying he lets them play PlayStation and watch cartoons all the time, and now they aren’t even going to school.

She also called the heavily guarded atmosphere of the family’s house, “like a prison camp.”

At the same time, pop singer Kristina Orbakaite and her former partner, Chechen businessman Ruslan Baisarov continued their very public wrangle over their 11-year-old son Deni.

The story has had an extraordinary amount of coverage, not just in the tabloids but also in the more turgid state media, mainly because Orbakaite has been famous since she was a child.

Her mother is pop diva Alla Pugachyova, whose every move, hairstyle change or new husband has been the subject of furious discussion since 1975. By contrast, Baisarov is more prominent on the business pages and has kept a low profile until now.  

The story has been in the tabloids since the week before last, when Orbakaite gave a news conference at RIA Novosti’s offices. Wearing a black dress and minimal jewelry, she came across as confident and unfazed by journalists, even if she was oddly imperious with her lawyer.

The week after, Deni was asked whether he wanted to live with Mommy or Daddy in the responsible, psychologically nonthreatening environment of a news conference thrown by Daddy at the Argumenty i Fakty newspaper’s office.

A Grozny court awarded Baisarov custody this week.

I think the turning point came in February last year when pop producer Yana Rudkovskaya decided to climb over a fence into her family’s house in full view of the journalists. Her ex-husband, Viktor Baturin, who is Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov’s brother-in-law, had not allowed her to see their 6-year-old sons.

She also recorded a conversation with one of her sons and allowed Komsomolskaya Pravda to post it on its web site. In the end, she gained custody over the children.

The depressing link between all these cases is that powerful men have tried to withhold access to children from their less powerful mothers. In which case, all methods, including glossy magazines, are possibly fair play.