Last month, jailed Russian opposition politician Aleksei Navalny's Anti-Corruption Foundation released a video exposé detailing a $1.35 billion residential complex on the Black Sea coast that was allegedly built for President Vladimir Putin's use. Navalny's team called the massive project "the world’s largest bribe.”
The video has been viewed more than 100 million times and the outrage it sparked has been a driving factor in protests that have swept Russia since Navalny's return from Germany in January following treatment for a near-fatal nerve-agent poisoning he blames on Putin.
Putin on January 25 denied that he or his family owned the so-called palace, although the Navalny video merely claimed the complex had been built by "friends" of the president for his use. A few days later, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that neither Putin nor his family "have anything to do" with the Black Sea complex. On January 30, Arkady Rotenberg, a longtime friend of Putin's whose construction company is involved in many state-related infrastructure projects, suddenly announced that he owned the property.
RFE/RL's Russian Service has found documents that confirm that a company that has worked on dozens of government projects, including the installation of secure communications in the Kremlin and the development and implementation of the country's electronic voting system, participated in outfitting the complex, which is located near the settlement of Praskoveyevka just south of the Krasnodar region resort town of Gelendzhik.
The firm, a publicly traded company called Saturn that is part of the Sistema financial group, reported in its 2012 annual report that during the previous year it had carried out work at the Kremlin, the hotel Dagomys and the Rus health-care facility owned by the presidential administration, the Moscow city administration building, the Russian government headquarters, and numerous other high-profile state facilities.
The firm installed secure communications for the Moscow mayor's office and a secure situation room at the Russian government headquarters, known as the White House, the annual report said. The firm also developed a security perimeter for the presidential administration building on Moscow's Staraya Ploshchad, which was denounced by local preservationists.
Saturn representatives did not respond to repeated requests to comment for this article.
According to the document, Saturn also worked on a "Pension" -- in Russian, Pansionat, written with the first letter capitalized -- in Praskoveyevka. The "Putin palace" project has been referred to using that exact term in numerous documents, including the floor plans presented in Navalny's video and a government list of civil-aviation facilities that includes the complex's heliport.
The 'Pension' In Praskoveyevka
In a 2011 interview with Kommersant, presidential chief of staff Vladimir Kozhin also referred to the "Pansionat" at Praskoveyevka, saying it was being built with "private investment." Kozhin mentioned, however, that the Dagomys hotel and the Rus sanatorium were being reconstructed at state expense as part of the preparations for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. The Saturn document indicates that the firm was working at that time at all three locations.
The documents also indicate that almost all of Saturn's business was carried out on the basis of government contracts.
There is another firm called MTU Saturn, which is registered at the same Moscow address as Saturn. According to the Kontur.fokus business database, MTU Saturn is owned by Saturn and a firm called RTI Sistemy. MTU Saturn General Director Vyacheslav Lozinsky told RFE/RL that his company was not a subsidiary of Saturn, but that it existed "in parallel."
"We have never worked in Praskoveyevka," he said.
MTU Saturn's website, however, shows considerable overlap in the work and the clientele of the two firms.
"The majority of our orders are carried out for the Federal Protection Service, the Federal Security Service, the Defense Ministry, the Special Programs Department of the presidential administration, the Interior Ministry, the Emergency Situations Ministry, the presidential administration, and other security agencies," MTU Saturn's website says. The Federal Protection Service (FSO) guards government facilities and senior officials, including their residences.
MTU Saturn reports it installed the secure communications system at the Kremlin.
The Saturn annual report states the firm carried out security work at virtually all major federal-government facilities, "creating for them telecommunications and security systems."
If Putin did spend time at the Praskoveyevka complex, the facility would require the kind of secure communications and high-level security systems that Saturn and MTU Saturn regularly install in government buildings.
Just One Of Many?
In 2007, Saturn marked its 50th anniversary. The company was originally part of the Kaskad research and production corporation, a Soviet-era enterprise that still exists and specializes in radio and other communications systems as well as computerized management solutions. The firm created communications and management systems for Russia's strategic missile forces. In the late 1980s, Saturn developed and implemented Russia's state lottery system.
In 2005, Saturn and MTU Saturn were acquired by the Sistema financial group.
Nikolai Zaitsev, who was MTU Saturn's general director until 2018, said in a 2007 interview that "recently...we have added work at the residences of the head of state, both in the Kremlin and in several other locations."
In 2012, former Deputy Prime Minister and opposition politician Boris Nemtsov -- who was shot dead near the Kremlin in 2015 -- published a report called The Life Of A Galley Slave, which listed 20 residences that he believed were at Putin's disposal. At least four of the properties in the Nemtsov report, including the Praskoveyevka complex, also appear in Saturn's 2012 annual report.