MOSCOW -- The team of imprisoned Kremlin critic Aleksei Navalny has published details of what it alleges is a lavish residence belonging to President Vladimir Putin and kept from public view, the latest salvo in the opposition’s push to boost expected turnout for planned protests and maintain pressure on the Kremlin ahead of parliamentary elections expected this fall.
The video investigation, which had attracted 2.7 million views on YouTube within the first 20 hours of its publication on April 15, alleges that Putin’s fourth official residence, on 150 hectares of land located near Lake Valdai northwest of Moscow, contains sumptuous interiors and includes a large spa center not revealed to Russian taxpayers.
"Why on earth are we financing the construction of Putin's private spa-complexes?” Navalny aide Maria Pevchikh asks in the video. "Why on earth are billions of rubles of taxpayer money going to one person’s decompression, mud-therapy and antiaging procedures?"
Investigations released by Navalny and his team over the past year have been viewed tens of millions of times on YouTube. The new probe comes just weeks after separate videos shed light on a $1.35 billion Black Sea palace allegedly built for Putin and the circumstances around Navalny’s poisoning in Siberia last August, which the anti-corruption crusader blames on Putin and the Federal Security Service.
Citing property records, Navalny's Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK) says part of the land is formally registered to a company called Praym LLC, which, according to the FBK, is owned by billionaire banker Yury Kovalchuk, the main shareholder of Bank Rossiya and one of Putin’s oldest friends.
FBK says that there are about 80 buildings on the land leased from Praym, including a four-story, 3,500-square-meter mansion, a Chinese-style pavilion, a Russian-style izba (wooden cabin), baths, saunas, a stable, a golf course, and a VIP restaurant that includes a cinema, bowling, billiards, and a small casino. The property also has its own church. Near the main building is an even larger one containing a spa complex with two underground floors and a total area of nearly 7,000 square meters (almost 75,350 square feet), according to FBK.
Navalny, Putin's most-vocal critic, was sentenced in February to 2 1/2 years in prison on charges he says were fabricated to sideline and discredit him. He was arrested in January after returning from Germany, where he was treated for the poison attack that European laboratories said involved a chemical nerve agent from the Novichok group.
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The new video also comes amid a push by Navalny’s aides, who have pledged to continue opposition activism, to boost expected turnout at fresh protests slated to take place in coming weeks. Anti-government rallies across Russia in January elicited a violent law enforcement crackdown and a concerted legal campaign against Navalny’s supporters throughout the country, which continues to reverberate with new raids and arrests almost three months after the demonstrations ended.
Citing the violence deployed by police, and the clear dangers faced by protesters, Navalny’s aides in early February called for a cessation of street demonstrations in favor of a redoubled focus on compiling evidence of state corruption ahead of parliamentary elections scheduled for September, which will occur against the backdrop of falling ratings for ruling party United Russia. The decision, which came as hundreds of protesters languished in squalid jails awaiting trial, prompted indignation from some Navalny supporters.
On March 23, Navalny’s aides placated some of the disillusioned supporters with a new initiative aimed at gauging protest potential. They launched a website on which Russians could register anonymously to take part in the next protest wave in support of Navalny, marking their location on an interactive map. Once the number of registered participants reaches 500,000, the team said, they will set a date for fresh protests.
Pevchikh and Georgi Alburov, her co-host in the latest video, ended the clip by urging viewers to sign up on the protest website.
But the same day the video was released, as the online protest tally reached 430,000, Navalny’s team was forced to apologize after reports emerged that thousands of e-mail addresses belonging to registered participants had been leaked online, apparently by hackers who then messaged the participants dismissing Navalny’s team as "losers."
Calling the leak “a retaliatory blow” in response to the latest video, Navalny aide Ivan Zhdanov said the leak contained only e-mail addresses, adding that their owners faced few consequences beyond receiving unsolicited messages discrediting Navalny and the broader opposition movement.
“We apologize for any nuisance caused,” Zhdanov wrote in a public message on the messenger Telegram. “We’ll do everything to make sure this never happens again."