On January 19th, 2021, Alexey Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation (Фонд борьбы с коррупцией, ФБК/FBK) has released a documentary called “Putin’s palace. History of world’s largest bribe” on YouTube. The video, along with its associated website, talks about a building on the Idokopas Cape near Gelendzhik (OSM link), the construction of which is estimated to have cost over 100 billion rubles and involved people tightly connected, personally and professionally, to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The video was released shortly after Navalny returned to Moscow (and was quickly arrested by police) after recovering in the Charité hospital in Berlin from what the German government has revealed to be a Novichok chemical agent poisoning likely perpetrated by FSB agents (Bellingcat has since determined their identities and linked them to three other activist deaths).
Navalny himself has made a video and a blog post (with a transcript) detailing how he managed to call one of the people involved in the poisoning and managed to social engineer him into admitting his involvement and revealing extra details.
While the building has been documented and previously referred to as “Putin’s palace” back in 2011, it didn’t attract enough attention at the moment. The video has provided lots of new information about the building, specifically about the people and organizations involved in its construction, maintenance and protection, and using blueprints and old photos (some of these are compiled in this blog post to make detailed 3D reconstructions of the interior as originally built (though, as the video notes, in 2021, the building’s interior is being rebuilt completely due to mold caused by poor ventilation).
The video has since accumulated over 100 million views on YouTube, and at the end, called for protests to happen on 23rd of January in cities all over Russia. Said protests were carried out in 198 Russian cities, were referred to as “largest in the Putin era” by journalists, with Reuters citing 40000 participants in Moscow alone, and other reporters claiming thousands participating in other cities. These protests were met with aggressive police action, with at least 3695 people detained, according to OVD-Info.
Similar protests also occurred on the 31st of January. This time, the police presence was way more overwhelming, with streets close to the Red Square in Moscow being shut down completely and other attempts to disrupt transportation in other cities. At the point of writing (Feb 1, 20:11 Moscow time), OVD-Info has reported at least 5646 arrests. Nevertheless, the protests in major cities, such as Moscow and St. Petersburg, continued for about the same amount of time. The participants adapted by improvising the route of their movement, so that police wouldn’t be able to blockade it.
On the 2nd of February, Navalny was tried in court for his alleged violation of a suspended sentence, as the coma caused by his poisoning prevented him from completing the probation check-ins. This is especially egregious as the European Court of Human Rights has previously overturned Navalny’s conviction that caused the suspended sentence to happen and forced Russia to pay compensation for the unjust conviction. The court case ended with a sentence of 3.5 years of prison for Navalny, reduced to 2 years and 8 months due to time spent in house arrest. Even before the verdict was announced, major streets in Moscow and St. Petersburg were blockaded in expectation of protests – which were announced immediately after. OVD-Info reports 1408 arrests in 10 cities.