President Vladimir Putin’s fiercest critic Navalny, who has been detained upon his return to Russia, released a video claiming Putin has secretly built the world’s most expensive palace.
Does Russian President Vladimir Putin own a $1 billion giant mansion on the coast of the Black Sea? According to a video, the answer is a firm yes.
The 113-minute documentary-style film, which makes this startling claim, was released by the team of Putin’s fiercest critic, Alexei Navalny, less than two days after he was detained in Russia.
The video purportedly shows the financial records of the palace. It says the private estate is 39 times the size of Monaco and has been kept as “Putin’s biggest secret”.
Calling it “the biggest bribe in history,” the investigation team claims that the private residence spans between 7,800 hectares (about 19,300 acres) in Russia's southern Black Sea coast, while nearly 30 square miles of land around the residence is also controlled by Russia's domestic intelligence. The airspace above is restricted, so is the coast within one mile, according to the video.
"It is the most secretive and well-guarded facility in Russia, without exaggeration," Navalny said in the video.
"This isn't a country house, it’s not a cottage, it's not a residence — it's an entire city, or rather a kingdom. It has impregnable fences, its own port, its own security, a church, its own permit system, a no-fly zone, and even its own border checkpoint. It's like a separate state inside of Russia. And in this state there is a single and irreplaceable czar. Putin."
The release of the investigation came at a critical time: it is less than two days following Navalny’s arrest at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport and just as the opposition leader’s supporters plan street protests to take place this weekend.
On Jan 17, the Russian opposition activist returned to Russia from Germany, where he had been treated for the near-deadly poisoning by a chemical warfare agent for five months. This was when he started his investigation on Putin’s private estate. As he and his supporters had expected, Navalny was not able to step outside the airport a free man. More than a million people watched him being arrested on a livestream.
His staff posted his last message to Russians before he was taken away: “Take to the streets.”
For Navalny and his team, the timing of the investigation’s release is a declaration that he wasn’t intimidated by the Russian President.
“We immediately agreed that we would release it when I returned home, to Russia, to Moscow,” he said in the opening part of the video.
“Because we do not want the main character of this film to think that we’re afraid of him and that I will tell about his worst secret while abroad.”
The investigation sparked an intense international reaction and the video has been watched more than 23 million times on YouTube.
“It speaks to Navalny's bravery that he held the release of this video on Putin's wealth until Navalny was likely in a Kremlin-controlled jail,” Kenneth Roth, Executive Director of Human Rights Watch, said.
“I note that 16 million people have now seen the @navalny video on Putin, the cronies and the palace. Undoubtedly some foreigners, but probably every tenth person in Russia. That’s huge,” wrote Carl Bildt, the Co-Chair of the European Council on Foreign Relations on Twitter.
However, the claims about a massive palace near the Black Sea town of Gelendzhik isn’t new. In 2014, Radio Free Europe mentioned the construction of a palace that had been commissioned by Putin using a billion dollars in illegally diverted funds.
The Kremlin denied the claims made by the investigation team.
“We already explained years ago that Putin has no palace in Gelendzhik,” Russian media quoted the spokesman, Dmitri S Peskov as saying.