Over the weekend, cities across Russia were shaken by waves of protest leading to thousands of arrests. The immediate cause? An epic lifestyle exposé.
Having recovered from a poisoning widely believed to have been orchestrated by Russian authorities, opposition figure Alexei Navalny returned to Russia on January 17 and was promptly arrested. Two days later, a lengthy video essay was posted to his YouTube channel, calling for street protests against corruption. Exhibit A was what the film dubs “Putin’s palace,” the Russian president’s lavish, secret home on the Black Sea, which Navalny compared to the “new Versailles or new Winter Palace.”
“This is certainly not just a building. It is a symbol of the 20 years of Putin’s rule,” Navalny opines. He claims that it has been built at a cost of some 200 billion rubles, or about $2.65 billion, funneled to Putin from various oligarch cronies, making it the “world’s biggest bribe.”
On Monday, in the wake of the tense demonstrations, Putin took the unusual step of officially responding to Navalny, denying that he owns the sprawling complex. “None of what is listed there [is my] property, neither me, nor my close relatives. … Never!”
The video—which has thus far been viewed 92 million times—begins by debunking the legends of Putin’s early life. It ends with a numbingly complex outline of the various shell companies connected to Putin’s various associates, family members, and mistresses, making the case that Putin is, in secret, effectively the world’s richest person.
But the meat of the nearly two-hour video relates to laying out, in exhaustive detail, the unthinkable luxury of Putin’s world.
“Today we will see what is considered impossible to see up close,” Navalny promises early on. “We will go where no one is allowed. We will pay Putin a visit and see with your own eyes that this man, in his racing for luxury and wealth, has gone completely mad.”
not totally new. What is new is the vividness with which Navalny sets out to illustrate it.
To make tangible the scope of the supposed secret complex, which is shielded from scrutiny by a no-fly zone and surrounded by a maritime buffer zone, the film shows Navalny’s assistants taking a raft into the waters offshore and launching a drone to capture aerial footage of the immense secret property. All told, the estate is nearly four times the size of nearby Gelendzhik, a resort town of 50,000 people.
double-headed eagle insignia from the Russian coat of arms which, Navalny notes, also featured on the gates of the Winter Palace, now the Hermitage Museum.
“The fact that Putin put an exact replica of the Tsar’s eagle with a crown from the Winter Palace on the gate of his personal dacha tells us a lot about who he thinks he is,” Navalny says.
was given Russian citizenship by Putin several years ago. The decor is what Peter York might call “dictator chic,” with lots of gold and velvet and simulations of aristocratic grandeur. The furniture listed in the plans hails from bespoke Italian furniture companies Citterio, Pozzoli, and AB Italia, and Navalny has even managed to get prices for some of the items.
These overstuffed chairs in the mansion’s “room of entertaining games” cost the equivalent of $9,000 apiece.
international attention in 2017, Andrei Rudomakha, an environmentalist, was beaten by masked men after documenting illegal construction and clearing of forrest near the village of Krinitsa. At the time, Rudomakha’s team reported seeing a Byzantine-style church at the site.
“After the attack on Rudomakha, Novaya Gazeta journalists discovered that the unusual church was imported from Greece, and this was done by the manager of Putin’s palace and other vineyards,” Navalny recounts.
Putin’s Palace.” height=”551″ src=”https://news.artnet.com/app/news-upload/2021/01/putin-church-Krinitsa-1024×551.jpg” width=”1024″>
“Byzantine-style church” seen at the Krinitsa site, as shown in Putin’s Palace.
Navalny’s more recent drone footage captures images of structures at the Krinitsa property, including a winery only slightly smaller than Putin’s palace, at 148,000 square feet, dubbed Old Provence.
He claims to have obtained customs records for the décor at Old Provence, which include a tempered glass vase worth $36,000, a “gold moon” chandelier with a system of decorative leaves worth $36,000; a fabric sofa with 20 pillows, worth $42,000; and a coffee table with “melted metal finish,” worth $57,000.