The Secret Life of Putin: Lavish Palaces, Loyal Guards, and Unending Paranoia

Putin's Billion-Dollar Escape Plan includes Secret Tunnels and Hidden Mansions on the Black Sea.

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Girish Linganna
Girish Linganna
Girish Linganna is a Defence & Aerospace analyst and is the Director of ADD Engineering Components (India) Pvt Ltd, a subsidiary of ADD Engineering GmbH, Germany with manufacturing units in Russia. He is Consulting Editor Industry and Defense at Frontier India.

A luxurious, 190,000-square-foot complex that was built at the cost of $1.3 billion and which hosts a hidden mansion by the Black Sea owned by Russia’s secretive president, Vladimir Putin, has a network of tunnels to help him escape in times of emergency—such as a rebellion or a war—and avoid a fate similar to what had befallen Libya’s, Colonel Muammar Gaddafi. The tunnels have been dug out 50 metres below sea level, while the property has a cathedral, an ice rink, a wine cellar and 17,000 acres of forest tucked away from the view of the rest of Russia.

The Guardian reports that Gleb Karakulov, a captain in the Federal Protection Service who defected last year, has confirmed the existence of a secret train network, identical offices in different cities, several layers of strict personal quarantine, and ever-increasing security protocols, including secret bunkers, to protect Putin, who has been known to disappear for weeks at a time. The measures are ostensibly designed to mask the whereabouts of the Russian president, whom Karakulov described as “pathologically afraid for his life”.

Decoy Planes & Dummy Convoys

Putin is also known to use twin offices in St. Petersburg, Novo-Ogaryovo and Sochi, and his Secret Service deploys decoy planes and dummy motorcades to give out false messages that he is leaving a certain place. This hoax is meant to confuse foreign intelligence and prevent any assassination bids. Another Federal Security Officer who left Russia said Putin would send dummy convoys of vehicles from his house near Sochi to fool people into believing that he was heading back to Moscow. Sochi is a city located in the southwestern part of Russia, on the shores of the Black Sea, known for its coastal resorts and beautiful landscapes. It has been a popular tourist destination and has hosted the 2014 Winter Olympics.

Putin’s paranoia has even prompted him to deploy a bodyguard solely dedicated to guarding his washing machine, reveals his former security officer, Vitaly Brizhatiy, who used to be a part of the security team for the Russian leader at a secret place in Crimea where Putin stays. Putin took control of the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine in 2014, and Ukraine’s main objective in the war was to regain control of this region.

Brizhatiy spoke to an independent Russian TV channel, providing information about the growingly petrified Vladimir Putin. The former guard responsible for looking after the dogs at Putin’s Olivye estate fled the country and now lives in Ecuador. The over-cautious leader even deploys armed divers to check for potential attackers at his private beaches.

No Trust in His Own Security Team

Brizhatiy shared that Putin does not fully trust his security team. Putin often provides incorrect information, even to his own security team, about when he is arriving in Crimea and where he will be staying. Crimea is a region located on the northern coast of the Black Sea and is historically a part of Ukraine, but was annexed by Russia in 2014. It is now a subject of international dispute and remains a contentious issue between Russia and Ukraine. Brizhatiy noted that although people are told that “he is relaxing at the dacha,” and everyone is busy defending that spot, he may be somewhere else totally. A ‘dacha’ in Russia refers to a seasonal or vacation home in the countryside or near nature.

Putin’s Olivye: Dreamland of a City

The former security officer portrayed Olivye, Putin’s palace in Crimea, as a lavish “small city”. It is like a dreamland. There were gyms, fountains, lovely gardens, tea houses, barbecue areas and beaches, Brizhatiy explained. But security is Putin’s foremost concern at the palace, and that security has increased since the beginning of the conflict in Ukraine, with the number of guard dogs growing to six times what it used to be. Most non-military workers are not allowed on the premises, and employees must surrender their phones when they come in.

Satellite pictures from 2018 reveal several houses in the region, including homes with swimming pools and a landing area for helicopters. The houses also seem to have tennis courts and private places to park boats. Brizhatiy calls these places “vacation houses” used by Putin and his friends, such as former Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev and Federal Security Services of Russian Board (FSB) chief Alexander Bortnikov, who are known for their aggressive stances. These luxurious residences have been kept secret from regular Russians. However, it is doubtful that Putin and his associates still use them because they are vulnerable to Ukrainian drones and missiles.

Away from the Ukraine Warfront

The authoritarian leader is now thought to prefer his palaces with underground bunkers located further inside Russia. His hideaway in Crimea, Olivye, lies to the south of Sevastopol. This area faces frequent attacks from Ukraine and is along a coastline that the Russian imperial tsars liked. It is commonly reported that Putin has grown more paranoid and concerned for his safety as his military campaign in Ukraine faces setbacks. Reports suggest that he has reportedly thwarted six assassination attempts in office. His public appearances are becoming less frequent and are carefully planned.

Many reports suggest that Putin’s greatest fear is a fate similar to that of Libya’s Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, who faced public torture, brutality and execution by a group of people in his own country. This event is believed to have scared Putin deeply and made him very worried about the possibility of a rebellion and his future. Many believe that Putin saw this as a clear message and a warning to his government.

A Putin adversary named Yuri Felshtinsky once told The Sun that Putin was extremely scared that, if he were to relax his control, he might face a similar unfortunate fate in the end. He is smart enough to know that his way of running the government can’t work in normal circumstances. Felshtinsky said that Putin is not an idealist. Felshtinsky, critical of the Putin regime, is a Russian-born historian, author and political commentator known for his research and writings on Russian politics and intelligence, particularly related to the Soviet Union and post-Soviet Russia.


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