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MOSCOW — Just aft Alexei Navalny woke up from the coma he’d been successful since being poisoned with a deadly nervus agent, 1 of his closest aides suggested that the clip had travel to people Vladimir Putin.
“It was the archetypal work-related speech we had,” Maria Pevchikh told POLITICO from an undisclosed determination extracurricular of Russia. “The 2nd helium learned it was Putin who was down [the attack], it was like: We’re doing this.”
Pevchikh, who runs Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation’s (FBK) investigative unit, was with him erstwhile helium was flown to Berlin successful precocious August. German doctors would aboriginal accidental the absorption person had been poisoned with Novichok.
“We were 100 percent definite Putin was down it, who other has entree to a military-grade nervus agent?” said Pevchikh.
A associated probe with reporters from Bellingcat detailing the alleged engagement of Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) successful the execution effort dispelled immoderate remaining doubts they had.
For months, she said, Navalny juggled physiotherapy and sleuthing portion Pevchikh and her workfellow Georgy Alburov worked down closed doors for 18 hours a time with nary days off.
Fast guardant respective months to January 17, erstwhile Navalny flew home.
Shortly aft landing helium was detained astatine passport power and taken to a constabulary station. The adjacent morning, a makeshift tribunal ordered him jailed for 30 days for violating parole up of a proceeding that could spot him locked up for years connected embezzlement charges that his supporters and the European Court of Human Rights have described as unfair.
Less than 24 hours aft the tribunal ruling, Pevchikh posted a video connected YouTube called “Putin’s palace. History of world’s largest bribe.”
On Thursday, the video reached 100 cardinal views.
For Navalny, the two-hour film, masterminded from his furniture successful an intensive attraction portion successful a German hospital, is 1 of a dwindling fig of ways to combat backmost against the Russian leader.
The video zeroes successful connected a lavish property connected the Black Sea. It claims the “new Versailles,” immoderate 39 times the size of Monaco, is being financed by Putin’s cronies.
Reports of an extravagant palace adjacent to the confederate Russian municipality of Gelendzhik spell backmost astatine slightest a decennary and implicit the years journalists person sporadically sought to excavation deeper — astatine their ain peril. On each occasion, Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov has denied immoderate nexus between the president and the estate.
But ne'er earlier had the Gelendzhik palace been covered successful specified meticulous — and juicy — detail.
As good arsenic exposing a analyzable financing strategy involving Russian authorities companies, the video said the country astir the palace was marked arsenic a no-fly zone, entree from the seashore was restricted, and the property placed nether the power of the Federal Protective Service (FSO), the information bureau tasked with the president’s safety.
То Navalny’s team, it was much grounds that the palace’s existent proprietor is the Russian president.
Aiming astatine the top
For a decade, the investigative subdivision of Navalny’s FBK has provided the absorption person with the ammunition helium needed to instrumentality connected Russia’s affluent and powerful.
The team’s investigations person targeted affluent businessmen and politicians, including an exposé connected Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev successful 2017, which triggered a bid of anti-corruption protests.
But it took the poisoning to displacement the absorption onto Putin himself, adjacent though Pevchikh says the squad had received a trickle of accusation astir the palace for years, overmuch of it from disgruntled unit progressive successful a monolithic refurbishment task due to the fact that of a expected mold problem.
For years, however, the leaks languished successful FBK members’ inboxes waiting for the close moment.
“We were lazy. The mode Putin’s corruption strategy is acceptable up is incredibly boring. The paperwork is awful; 1 steadfast replaces different firm, whose ownership switches hands from 1 offshore to different and truthful on. It wasn’t a amusive communicative to investigate,” Pevchikh said.
It wasn’t each dull paperwork, however. Alburov — who was not disposable for remark due to the fact that helium was serving a 10-day jailhouse condemnation for a station connected societal media calling connected Russians to protestation Navalny’s apprehension — precocious recounted to Russian writer Michael Naki however helium traveled to Russia’s Black Sea seashore to get person to the estate.
To deflect immoderate unwanted attraction from the information services, Alburov bought a fake bid ticket, and past switched from a bid to a getaway car successful the mediate of the night, leaving his telephone with a companion who traveled connected to the edifice metropolis of Sochi, successful lawsuit the telephone was being monitored.
Together with 1 of FBK’s lawyers, helium past sailed retired to oversea successful a rubber vessel from wherever they released a drone. The effect was a elaborate birds-eye-view of the estate, which appears to include an underground ice-hockey rink and an 80-meter span to a “teahouse.”
But the existent aureate summons was a elaborate level program of the property that they were sent anonymously successful the summer, not agelong earlier Navalny’s poisoning. “We couldn’t judge our luck. Initially, we thought idiosyncratic was trolling us,” Pevchikh said.
The plans were incredibly detailed, including accusation connected circumstantial items of furnishings that the squad cross-checked with leaked photos of the palace to verify the plans.
They past made a 3D, interactive mentation of the palace’s interior successful mind-boggling detail, including a casino (which are banned successful Russia) and a hookah barroom with a signifier for rod dancing.
Within a time the video outperformed the team’s Medvedev video (which got 41 cardinal views implicit 3 years) and roseate to the apical of Russia’s YouTube viewing rankings. According to YouTube statistic cited by BBC Russia, the video has had 32.6 cardinal unsocial views, 62 percent of which tin beryllium attributed to Russian IP addresses.
Statisticians who person analyzed Navalny’s video suggest Russians person been watching it en masse during their luncheon breaks.
In a state where the Kremlin relies on most radical getting their accusation from authorities television, the movie presents a superior situation to the authorities’ accusation monopoly.
“The video outscores each of Russia’s propaganda outlets. By now, Navalny’s connection has reached astir 55 percent of the big Russian population,” Vasily Gatov, an adept successful Russian media, told POLITICO.
The video apt helped substance choler up of a nationwide protestation past Saturday that saw tens of thousands instrumentality to the streets successful much than 120 cities crossed Russia. Some protesters carried toilet brushes, successful a motion to a country successful the video successful which Navalny claims palace unit precocious placed an bid for a toilet brushwood worthy €700.
“Putin is connected a binge, his toilet brushwood is much costly than my mother’s yearly benefits payment,” 21-year-old Maria Yermosh told POLITICO astatine past weekend’s Moscow protest. “It’s disgusting.”
It is not conscionable Putin’s alleged wealthiness that has touched a earthy nervus successful a state wherever 2020 saw a grounds driblet successful Russians’ existent incomes.
The video starts successful Dresden, wherever Putin erstwhile served arsenic a KGB agent, and recounts his emergence to powerfulness and wealthiness done alleged shady dealings successful St. Petersburg successful the 1990s.
“We wanted to amusement that helium was an mean person, precise mediocre. It was a series of precise mundane events that led to this. Things could person been precise different,” said Pevchikh. “We besides wanted to amusement that this utmost thirst for wealth and wealthiness has ever been there. The 2nd helium got his hands connected a tiny magnitude of power, helium started to steal.”
That connection appears to person deed location with immoderate Russians, with songs and memes ridiculing the president’s ostentatious taste.
“Many person been upset by this pointless opulence. The video presents a definite representation of the radical who regularisation us, who went from rags to riches,” Lev Gudkov, caput of the autarkic Levada Center polling firm, told the Meduza outlet.
With the video dominating the nationalist conversation, the Kremlin has launched a counter-offensive to reclaim the narrative.
In an antithetic idiosyncratic absorption this week, Putin called the video “boring,” portion astatine the aforesaid clip denying immoderate ties to the estate.
The FSB admitted the beingness of a no-fly portion successful the country but attributed it to “increased NATO activity.” The FSO, meanwhile, simply denied determination were immoderate restrictions connected the site. State tv transmission Rossia-1 connected Friday aired a conception astir a shabby-looking gathering inactive nether construction, calling it an “unfinished hotel.”
Russian businessman Arkady Rotenberg, a puerility person of Putin’s, connected Saturday claimed the Gelendzhik property arsenic his property, saying helium was readying connected turning it into a hotel.
After a tribunal connected Thursday rejected an entreaty to person Navalny released from jail, his associates erstwhile again called connected Russians to instrumentality to the streets connected Sunday.
“The thoroughfare present has the last word,” Navalny’s state Leonid Volkov, who himself is facing transgression charges, said connected Twitter. “There’s simply nary different enactment left.”
Recent events suggest, however, the authorities are opting for a crackdown alternatively than dialogue.
Gatov, the media expert, doesn’t discount that, considering the YouTube video’s astronomic success, the online sphere could beryllium next.
“The authorities has galore censorship tools, and it could edifice to them if it senses a existent threat. So acold it hasn’t censored platforms specified arsenic YouTube, TikTok oregon Twitter, which Navalny relies connected to convey his message. But arsenic hostility grows, I wouldn’t exclude specified action, with an unpredictable outcome,” helium said.
Navalny’s investigations team, however, has vowed to proceed its work, calling the palace video the opening of a bid of exposés connected the president.
“You could telephone it revenge. But existent revenge should instrumentality spot successful a courtroom. Since that enactment is not available, we’re warring this conflict with the limb that we’ve mastered: flying drones, telling stories and digging up details,” said Pevchikh.
“There volition beryllium many, many, galore much stories to come.”
This communicative has been updated aft Russian businessman Arkady Rotenberg claimed the Gelendzhik property arsenic his property.