Russian president Vladimir Putin has a secret network of underground tunnels which run beneath his palace hideaway by the Black Sea, unearthed plans suggest.
Mr Putin had a huge underground bunker built beneath Gelendzhik Palace, according to plans posted online by the engineering firm in charge of the project, with a network of tunnels lying around 50 metres under the surface.
The complex, first reported by Business Insider, is thought to have been constructed for protection in the event of a revolution or war and was built before Russia took over Crimea in 2014.
The £1bn palace is located on a verge overlooking the sea and takes up a 190,000 square-foot area. It even has its own church, ice rink, casino and hookah lounge.
The labyrinth of hidden tunnels was revealed by jailed Russian opposition figure Alexei Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation, after the defunct Russian construction firm Metro Style posted the diagrams on its website in the early 2010s to show off their work.
The bunkers appear to have a ventilation system, sewerage and a fresh water supply, while the walls are 15-inch concrete shells, as shown in the diagrams.
There is also an elevator shaft that connects the complex to the two tunnels, as revealed in one diagram – and the lower one has a walkway to the beach, as well as cable racks that could be used to bring electricity, lighting and fibre-optic cables to a command post.
Meanwhile, exits from both tunnels can be seen on the cliff face rising up from the sea to the palace.
“This tunnel set-up has all kinds of safety and security,” said Thaddeus Gabryszewski, who is a structural engineer familiar with defensive structures and reviewed the diagrams for Business Insider. “There’s a fire system. There’s water, there’s sewer. This is intended for someone to survive or escape.”
The engineering company described the project as an “underground complex for a resort” in Gelendzhik, the town closest to the Russian president’s palace, and it stretches across 6,500 square feet.
Speaking to Business Insider, Michael C. Kimmage, who is a former State Department official and worked on Russia and Ukraine policy, said: “Putin has a lot of anxiety about being the not-entirely-legitimate leader of Russia. So knowing that his legitimacy is not entirely secured by elections, he is going to seek to maximize his personal safety through a complex of well-defended personal residences.”
The diagrams were taken down from Metro Style’s website in 2016, but they were still visible on the Wayback Machine, which is an archive of online content.
Then they were circulated in a community of so-called ‘diggers’, which are a group of Russian citizens who visit and document forbidden sites.
An anonymous digger who said he was part of a group called “Sect Z” told Business Insider he was sharing the images “because we are tired of Putin’s stupid face and want to show his paranoid underground transport”.
Last month, a protection officer for Mr Putin defected and called the Russian president a “paranoid war criminal”.
Gleb Karakulov, 35, who served as an engineer in the Federal Guard Service (FSO) presidential communications unit, claimed last month that Mr Putin opts to stay “in his bunker” rather than make trips because he is so paranoid about an assassination attempt.
The Russian president also allegedly travels with a 2.5 meter high box to prevent his secret talks from leaking and Western bugging.
Mr Karakulov claimed that the Russian president is isolating for a fourth year in a row, out of fear of becoming infected with Covid-19, and staff can only work in the same room as him once they have been in isolation for two weeks.
Mr Putin does not use a mobile phone or the internet, meaning his knowledge of events is filtered via the secret services – and what he watches on state-controlled Russian TV, according to Mr Karakulov.
Speaking about the war in Ukraine, Mr Karakulov issued an appeal to officers to come forward with evidence about Mr Putin as a “war criminal,” saying the war is “beyond the pale” and “defies reason”.
When the organisation of opposition leader Mr Navalny initially published an expose of the Russian president’s Black Sea palace in 2021, thousands of Russians protested, holding up gold-painted toilet brushes in reference to a £700 utensil allegedly found in the residence.
Mr Putin has denied owning the palace. Meanwhile, his billionaire childhood friend claimed the property belonged to him not the president, who he said had nothing to do with it.
But the palace, which is surrounded by 17,000 acres of woods, is constantly protected by Mr Putin’s security team and protected by a no-fly zone – and the Kremlin failed to explain why this was the case if the president does not live there.