With its supposedly lavish furnishings, long swimming pool and digital dance studio, an opulent manor said to belong to Russian President Vladimir Putin shocked viewers of a documentary made by Kremlin critic Alexey Navalny.
Now, however, the very existence of its gilded corridors and plush carpets has been called into question, after a film crew from the Moscow-based Mash news channel paid a visit to the property in Gelendzhik. On Friday, the reporters released their footage on the Telegram messaging service.
Having gained unprecedented access to the site, the journalists weren’t greeted by butlers or security guards, but by “an entrance without a gate,” they said. Instead of a luxurious coastal home, the channel’s editor-in-chief, Maxim Iksanov, described it as “a big pile of concrete.”
Surrounded by scaffolding, the building has been only partly completed from the outside, while the interior is effectively a shell, with wires hanging from un-plastered walls. Across 16 identical rooms, bags of concrete are stacked up, with the swimming pool and much of the garden still unfinished.
The scene is a far cry from the picture put forward in Navalny’s investigation, titled ‘Putin’s Palace’. Realistic, if far-fetched, virtual renderings, supposedly based on architectural plans, were shared widely online when the purported exposé was published earlier this month. A number of outlets even failed to mention that the images were mock-ups, rather than accurate representations. Video of the estate shot by drone reinforced the scale of the property.
In his documentary, Navalny acknowledged work was ongoing at the property. However, it appears from Mash’s report that the building was never completed in the first place.
Mash says it gained access with the help of a construction supervisor who has been overseeing work at the site for years. The existence of the house, on Russia’s sunny Black Sea coast, has been known about since 2012, when UK state broadcaster BBC News claimed it could be Putin’s summer bolthole.
At the time, the Kremlin said the allegations were not based on reality, and spokesman Dmitry Peskov repeated the denial in response to Navalny’s investigation earlier this month. “I can say straight away that this is a broken record. Many years ago, we had previously explained that Putin does not have any palaces in Gelendzhik,” he said.
A key part of the argument for the palatial address belonging to a high-profile VIP was the existence of a no-fly zone, supposedly to protect the president from aerial attack while he sunned himself around the pool. However, earlier this week, the FSB state security agency insisted the ban on flightpaths was to counter the risk of NATO spy planes near the coastline. Officials added that there were “no protected properties” in the area. Even if it were secretly owned by Putin, it is unclear why the officers would want to protect a building site.
Close to 100 million people have watched Navalny’s documentary since it was published online. His associates uploaded the video after he was detained at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport after returning from Berlin. He has been remanded in custody while awaiting trial for allegedly breaching the terms of a three-and-a-half-year suspended sentence for a fraud conviction.
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