Mikhail Maglov, Roman Badanin, Mikhail Rubin and other journalists of The Project
February 28, 2023
The story of how Vladimir Putin’s vassals provided a royal life for Alina Kabaeva and her children, while secret services hid the existence of this family from the rest of the country.
You should know that respectable matrons require
Gorgeous thrones and great palaces — such is their desire
Eustache Deschamps, “Le Miroir de Mariage”, ca. 1400
Sochi and its suburbs are one of Vladimir Putin’s favorite places; he spends a good part of the year in the Russian subtropics according to journalists’ calculations, the president can stay there for more than two months each year × . Both his official residence and his secret palace at Cape Idokopas are located here. In 2011, Sochi was living the Olympic dream — investments were flowing into the city, infrastructure and housing were being constructed. In September of that year it was announced that Dmitry Medvedev’s brief reign was ending, and Putin would return to power. It was then — during the summer and fall of 2011 — that the largest deals took place on the residential apartments market in Sochi. Four huge apartments in houses on Kurortny Prospekt consecutively got new owners. The penthouse in the Royal Park residential complex became the brightest diamond in this necklace of real estate — a 2,600 sq. m. apartment with a swimming pool, a movie theater, a patio and its own helipad on the roof is considered “the largest apartment in Russia” it was declared as such in 2021 by the CIAN realtor service × .
The royal scale of the purchase as well as the regal name of the residential complex seem to hint at the special status of the person who was to live in this luxury. The status of this person is indeed special. She is the uncrowned queen of Russia, the secret concubine of President Putin and the alleged mother of his children. Her name is Alina Kabaeva.
The Lady and Her Vassals
“The cult of the Lady thrived in the courts of major lords. As a rule, the object of worship was the mistress of the castle. She remained beyond the reach of her husband’s vassals. They glorified [her] without expecting reciprocity.”
Maria Koziakova, “History. Culture. Daily Life.”
Comparing Kabaeva to a medieval ruler is absolutely appropriate. In the course of this investigation, journalists of The Project have established many facts about the relationship between the Russian president and his mistress, all of which seem to have been copied from medieval history books.
– The “gymnast” came in person and specified which apartments she wanted and in whose name they should be registered,” said one of The Project’s interlocutors, who had been directly involved in managing President Putin’s secret “common fund” for a number of years. As was described in detail in a previous episode of Iron Masks, this “fund” (a Cypriot company Ermira and its affiliated firms) spent millions of dollars on the personal needs of Putin and his family, like the palace at Gelendzhik, the villa in Sochi, or real estate for the president’s son-in-law and ex-wife.
Our source uses the word “gymnast” to refer to Kabaeva. This word was used by many of The Project’s interlocutors with whom we spoke during the months of preparing this investigation. Kabaeva is indeed a legendary athlete, an Olympic rhythmic gymnastics champion. However, The Project’s interlocutors use the word “gymnast” not as a reference to Kabaeva’s occupation, but for the sake of secrecy. Rumors had been circulating since at least 2008 that Kabaeva was having a secret affair with Putin, but anyone who dared to talk about it publicly was met with immediate retribution the Moskovsky Korrespondent newspaper owned by businessman Alexander Lebedev, which published an article about the relationship between Putin and Kabaeva, was forcibly shut down within a few days, and the author of the article was questioned by the Federal Guard Service, as he himself told The Project × . Today, The Project will finally tell the story of this love affair.
From Clubs to Scepter ↓
Biography of Alina Kabaeva
According to our source, everything was arranged as follows: people important to Putin personally would meet with the president’s vassals — Arkady Rotenberg, Yury Kovalchuk, and their subordinates — and outline their needs. Then the vassals would use the money of the Ermira firm to buy the requested assets. Such was the case with Kabaeva in 2011. In accordance with the wishes of the “gymnast,” four apartments in Sochi were registered in the names of her trustees.
The apartment at 92/5 Kurortny Prospekt and two more in the Royal Park residential complex were registered in the name of Anna Zatsepilina, Kabaeva’s grandmother (we will come back to her later). The main apartment, the royal penthouse, was registered in the name of Oleg Rudnov. Rudnov is a longtime nominee of Putin, to whom we promised to return in the previous installment of “Iron Masks”.
Rudnov is a now-deceased media manager from St. Petersburg. He met the future president back in 1996, during the election campaign of Anatoly Sobchak — Putin was the head of Sobchak’s campaign staff. Since then, Rudnov has joined the circle of businessmen close to Putin, performing, like them, sensitive missions in the interests of the head of state. For instance, in 2006 Rudnov became the nominal owner of a cottage in the village of Pominovo in the Tver Oblast, where Spiridon Putin, the president’s grandfather, used to live. In the noughties, Rudnov transferred expensive real estate near the Palace Square in St. Petersburg to Putin’s mistress, Svetlana Krinovogikh The Project wrote about it in the second part of Iron Masks × . In 2007, Rudnov became the chairman of the board of the president’s favorite newspaper, Komsomolskaya Pravda. It later turned out that his son also controlled a significant share of it. Finally, in 2013 Rudnov became the owner of the land in the Vyborg District of Leningrad Oblast where Villa Sellgren, one of the president’s vacation homes, is located. In 2015, Oleg Rudnov passed away, and all “his” assets were transferred to his son, Sergei Rudnov, who continued his father’s shady business. Six months after the release of the second part of Iron Masks, in which “Project” told about Svetlana Krivonogikh, Rudnov Jr. registered an apartment in Sochi, intended for Krivonogikh’s mother Nadezhda, in his own name.
The penthouse in Sochi is now also registered to Rudnov Jr. Thanks to a lucky misunderstanding, we have a chance to find out what Kabaeva’s apartment looks like from the inside.
First of all, there is an advertising leaflet on the Internet where Roman Timokhin, the general director of the developing company — MR Group – × says that the price of the penthouse was $15 million as of 2011 — this sum includes the design project by Valentin Yudashkin. “The main idea of the penthouse interior is to provide maximum comfort for the person who will come to his Sochi residence twice a year — in summer and in winter… The author of the interior has included all sorts of things here: apartments consisting of 20 rooms with a circular enfilade of living rooms, a fireplace room, a private cinema, a billiard room, a private gallery for art collections, a bar, a SPA zone with a sauna and a hammam, several open-air relaxation zones with Arcade and Dastarkhan pavilions, Japanese-style relaxation courtyard, Moroccan-style barbecue gazebo, outdoor tanning bed and a plunge pool with hydromassage, as well as a bar with waterfall walls and mosaic floor, a mini-dance floor and other areas that allow future owners to enjoy any type of holiday scenario. In short, such a dwelling will satisfy even the most demanding taste. There are two staff apartments on the 18th floor.”
As mentioned above, the servant apartments included in the penthouse were not enough for the Tsarina of Russia, so she asked the managers of the Ermira company to buy two more neighboring apartments on the 16th floor of the same complex with a total area of 233 sq. m. × , which were registered in the name of Kabaeva’s grandmother.
Secondly, in March 2021, the penthouse was briefly put up for sale, but not sold (the probable reason for this will be explained below). Thanks to this, you can find an archived ad on the Internet with a 3D visualization of the interiors of Kabaeva’s apartment. Here are these interiors:
Interiors of Kabaeva’s apartment
The open space of the penthouse includes several recreational ares
Аn outdoor pool with excellent sea view
Spacious staircase between the floors with lots of gilding, and marble floors
The dining room is almost entirely finished in marble
A separate room is allocated for a private cinema, it is finished in precious woods
The study and library are also finished in wood
There is also room for a fireplace
In the project, the bedroom was supposed to be in calm beige colors and include a TV
According to the documents available to The Project, the purchase of the penthouse for Kabaeva was financed from Rudnov Sr.’s personal account and cost only 90 million rubles, which is 5 times cheaper than the price of the penthouse stated by the real estate developer. This amount was deposited in cash into Rudnov’s account with the help of Ermira managers, and from there it was transferred to the development company , as claimed by the source of the The Project × . The apartment on the 16th floor, which is registered in Zatsepilina’s name, was also acquired by the tsarina of Russia at a price significantly lower than the market — 20.7 million rubles according to the documents available to The Project × . At present, similar apartments cost 65 million rubles.
To verify that the “royal” penthouse is linked to Kabaeva, our correspondent went to Sochi and met with realtors who sell apartments in this building under the guise of a buyer. Two of the realtors confessed independently of each other: they had heard that the penthouse was “owned by Kabaeva”. However, locals said that they have not seen Kabaeva there, at least not in recent years. The most likely reason is that she preferred to live in a different, more private place, which we will tell you about later — in all likelihood, this was the reason for the failed sale of the penthouse.
Rudnov was not the only vassal of Putin who helped the tsarina of Russia acquire luxury real estate. The Project has compiled all real estate, both unknown and previously disclosed by journalists, that belongs to Alina Kabaeva, her closest relatives and nominees associated with her. In most cases, the real estate was acquired by the “gymnast” from state companies or the president’s vassals — his nominees or friends who made a fortune during the years of Putin’s reign.
The estimated value of all this real estate is close to $120 million 8.2 billion rubles, or approximately $117.5 million at the current exchange rate × .
Real estate appraisal was carried out at the average cost of current offers on the market. The total calculation also took into account the cost of the French villa, which was allegedly in the use of Alina Kabaeva.
If we add the running costs that Putin’s feoffees , that is, those who are dependent on the suzerain × incur to support Kabaeva and her relatives to this already enormous amount of money, we will get an even more substantial sum.
Other Kabaeva’s income
Kabaeva’s income from her work at Yuri Kovalchuk’s National Media Group is about 800 million rubles a year . At least in 2018, The Insider, based on data from the tax service, estimated her annual income at 785.4 million ×
Salaries of Alina Kabaeva’s sisters, which will be discussed below, which are paid out by companies connected to Yury Kovalchuk SOGAZ and Axis Investments × — around 5 million rubles a year — based on the data for 2021 × .
Usage of aircraft owned by Gennady Timchenko and the Rossiya Bank — impossible to evaluate (! In 2011, Boris Nemtsov presented to the court the flight record of Timchenko’s plane, which proved it was being used by Kabaeva. Kabayeva’s use of the plane belonging to Kovalchuk’s bank was later reported by Meduza*).
Most of the houses and apartments on our list are simply expensive real estate, a way of investing huge sums of money that have ended up in the hands of Putin and his vassals in a dubious manner. But there is one house that is especially important to us. It offers a glimpse of how the common life of Putin and his secret concubine is arranged. But first, let us tell you how we discovered this house.
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Chaperones and midwives
…Up to ten noble maidens were kept in the houses, well-fed and well-dressed, with no other concerns than their own bodies and the comfort of their mistress
The Chronicles of Don Pedro Niño, as retold by Eugène Emmanuel Viollet-le-Duc in his book Life and Entertainment in the Middle Ages
While working on this investigation, The Project spoke to at least ten former and current officials. All of them admitted that they had never seen Putin and Kabaeva together, not only in public, but also at private events and meetings. A major businessman who has witnessed Putin’s ski vacations in Sochi more than once admitted that the president has never taken his concubine there, either. However, none of The Project’s interlocutors had any doubts about the existence of a relationship between the president and the “gymnast”.
An acquaintance of Putin explains the situation this way: only top-ranking officers of the Federal Guard Service (FSO) are aware of this cover-up operation. However, there is no secret that can resist a woman’s love of being photographed.
Let’s start with this private photo — pictured here are obstetrician Natalia Thiebaud, neonatologist Petra Caterina Maria Donati Genet and nurse Stella Giselu.
Lef to right: Natalia Thiebaud, Petra Caterina Maria Donati Genet and Stella Giselu at the parade in Moscow on May 9, 2019
They are medics, working most of their time at the elite St. Anne’s Hospital in Lugano, Switzerland. The place and time of this photograph is Moscow, Red Square, May 9, 2019. There’s one important detail — the women are posing on the VIP stand next to the Mausoleum, which ordinary guests of the victory parade cannot enter — only those with special invitations from the Kremlin are allowed there.
How did Swiss doctors, who came to Moscow for several days, end up in the VIP-stand closed to all outsiders?
The answer to this question is quite simple: these Swiss women had important and secret merits before the Russian leadership. They were Kabaeva’s personal midwives and doctors who assisted in the birth of her children . The Project knows this from an interlocutor familiar with the work of the St. Anna clinic. Our source also claims that Thiebaud has known Putin for a long time. Her acquaintance with Kabaeva’s entourage is also confirmed by social media — for example, in 2017 Thiebaud “liked” photos of Kabaeva’s closest assistant, Elena Yerkhan, who we will talk about below, on Facebook × . It was Thiebaud and other staff at St. Anne’s who helped Kabaeva give birth in Lugano in 2015 the Swiss newspaper SonntagsZeitung previously reported that it was in Lugano that the birth took place × . In May 2019, when the “gymnast” was in labor for the second time, the Swiss had to go to Russia — either because the story of the first birth was leaked to the press, and relations with the West were no longer as smooth as before, or because the expectant mother was not ready for long-distance travel for health reasons . An interlocutor familiar with the work of the St. Anna Hospital told The Project about the delivery in Moscow in 2019. The delivery at the Kulakov Center on May 7, 2019 was also reported by the Russian tabloid Dom2Life.ru × .
Natalya Tiebo. Source: Odnoklassniki
Like any lady, Kabayeva has her chaperones — women who help her with everything. They are rarely caught on camera, and their names were not previously known to the public. We present Kabaeva’s chaperones — these private photos show all five of the closest assistants of the Russian tsarina. These are sisters Ekaterina Golovacheva and Olesya Fedina, also sisters Yulia and Anna Nazarova, and Elena Yerkhan. They regularly accompany our champion at various public events, from social parties and concerts to the Alina Rhythmic Gymnastics Festival.
But even more commonly, they accompany Kabaeva on non-public trips. This helped us figure out which place in Russia is especially important for the uncrowned ruler of the country and her children.
Let’s start with an important fact — Olesya Fedina and Ekaterina Golovacheva are maternal cousins of Alina Kabaeva . This fact is confirmed by conversations with Fedina and Golovacheva’s acquaintances, leaked data from Gemotest and Yandex.Food, excerpts from the Rosreestr and other documents available to The Project × . Anna Zatsepilina is the grandmother of all three.
Formally, all the tsarina’s aides are employed in organizations associated with Kabaeva or Putin’s vassals. For example, Fedina works in SOGAZ, which is controlled by Kovalchuk. Golovacheva briefly worked as an assistant to her cousin in the State Duma, and since 2020 she has also been employed in the subsidiaries of the Rossiya Bank, which grow grapes near Putin’s palace in Gelendzhik namely, in JSC Divnomorye and JSC Axis Investments × . Anna Nazarova is listed as the chief accountant of the Alina Kabaeva Foundation. Her sister Yulia is a board member of the same foundation. Yelena Yerkhan, a former fellow student of Kabaeva’s sister Leysan, is now a member of the National Media Group, of which Kovalchuk is the main shareholder.
After examining a leaked database of train ticket reservations, The Project discovered that all five chaperones travel to Valdai on a regular basis. They repeatedly bought tickets to Okulovka and Uglovka stations, the closest public stations to Putin’s Valdai residence (the stations closed to ordinary citizens, which are probably used by Kabaeva and her children, will be discussed in the final chapter).
Trips of Kabaeva’s assistants to Valdai
Joint trips are highlighted in color
Apparently Kabaeva spends so much time in Valdai that her closest aide even bought real estate there. Fedina received an apartment in Valdai in 2016, a year after her cousin had her first child (we’ll talk about Kabayeva’s children below). At the same time, Fedina also got a detached house in Valdai, in the neighboring village of Yashcherovo, where many of Putin’s VIPs — employees of the Federal Guard Service and the Presidential Administration — live.
Yekaterina Golovacheva and Olesya Fedina also received real estate in Sochi, where Kabaeva seems to have spent and still spends quite a lot of time. Ekaterina has a house in the Imereti lowlands near the Sirius Center, and they bought an apartment together with Olesya a little further away.
The real estate for Kabayeva’s relatives was most likely also purchased by Putin’s vassals. At any rate, Fedina’s official earnings indicate that the former employee of a psychoneurological care center — until 2020, Fedina worked as a physical therapy instructor at the Fili-Davydkovo Social Services Center, formerly called Psychoneurological Care Center #4 × could not have possibly afforded any of the real estate herself . According to documents at the disposal of the Project, Fedina’s income in 2019 was just over 1 million rubles — that’s her salary at the psychoneurological care center and at the Moscow Directorate for the Development of Mass Sports × .
So why do Kabaeva’s sisters and assistants stay in Valdai almost all the time?
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Men’s and Women’s Side
The wife of the old knight was the most beautiful of ladies […] She lived in a house next to the admiral’s house, and there was a drawbridge between the two houses. A single wall surrounded them both. The furniture and furnishings in both houses were so exceptional that an account of them would take too much space.
The Chronicles of Don Pedro Niño, as retold by Eugène Emmanuel Viollet-le-Duc in his book Life and Entertainment in the Middle Ages
Among other things, to take care of the children of the famous gymnast, the father of which is presumably Putin. Based on the facts known to The Project and earlier articles, we can assume that all of Kabaeva’s children are still underage — that is why The Project does not disclose information about the likely heirs of the Russian president, including their number and gender. However, we will tell you where they are hiding.
Valdai and its surroundings in the Novgorod Oblast, about halfway between St. Petersburg and Moscow, is another place in Russia besides Sochi that President Putin loves and cares about.
Putin has always had an official residence in Valdai, but not only that. As journalists previously discovered, in recent years, an entire VIP settlement has grown around the residence near the villages of Dolgie Borody and Yashcherovo, and Putin’s entourage — mainly people from the FSO and the Directorate of Affairs — have bought homes there. Also in the village, right next to the residence, enormous land plots have been registered under the names of shell corporations affiliated with Putin’s vassals Kovalchuk and Rotenberg . The main asset of this kind next to Putin’s residence is the land registered to LLC Prime, which is controlled by Kovalchuk × .
“He loves the Russian North for some reason,” a high-ranking official told The Project’s correspondents about Putin several years ago. The reason for this love may lie in the seclusion of the Valdai residence: it rarely makes any news, and official meetings are hardly ever held there, but this dacha surrounded by forests is suitable for private, one might even say intimate, events. Occasionally, scanty stories about such events do make the press. In 2008, Igor Buntman, a jazz musician, told the press that he played for Putin at the Valdai, with Larisa Dolina singing. Singer Natalia Vetlitskaya and even some Western artists also wrote about the performance. A former official says that the president also regularly brings his hockey partners to Valdai: an indoor ice rink has been built there for this hobby of Putin’s.
Something similar is happening now. When a correspondent of The Project arrived in Valdai in 2022, he discovered that the nearby health resort of the Presidential Administration was closed, and that its buildings were being used to quarantine Putin’s personal guests who would come to visit him on private occasions , claims a local resident with knowledge of the details of the health resort’s operations × .
While working on this investigation, The Project tracked down one of the executives in charge of the construction of Putin’s Valdai residence. Our interlocutor, who asked to remain anonymous, was constructing Putin’s cottage until 2005, when the main work was completed. The photographs that he provided were verified by The Project. They give us a chance to peek inside the president’s house and, in a sense, even inside his soul, because the interiors, as will be shown below, reflect their owner’s ideas about beauty.
The construction of the royal residence on Valdai began almost immediately after Putin came to power according to the Project’s interlocutor × , and by 2003, the first version of the house was completed. From the outside, it looked like this.
The exterior of the house did not change much, which cannot be said about the interior decor. In 2003, Putin came there to inspect the work. This is how The Project’s interlocutor recalls that meeting:
– The decor looked very modern, it was somewhat high-tech. And the president didn’t like it. “How would you like it to look?” — we asked him. “Like St. Petersburg,” the president replied after some thought. After he left, everyone began to wonder what that meant. So we decided that “like St. Petersburg” meant “like the Hermitage”.
We can see the result of this work. The photographs, which have never been published before, show Putin’s study, the rooms of his daughters and Lyudmila Putina, Lyudmila’s bedroom, and many small elements of the interior decoration of the house. The main feature of the design is lots and lots of gold.
Interiors of the presidential house on Valdai
The golden living room on the second floor of the residence
Its distinguishing feature is the cornice in the form of a French net
The silver living room
The white dining room
The music lounge is located on the first floor of the residence
The president’s study with gilded mahogany chairs
This place is called “the night-cellar” by the builders. Here the president and his guests relax on gilded chairs, and above them hangs a ball-shaped chandelier. There is gold leaf dangling from it — this is done on purpose so that one can tear off a “petal” for themselves.
The most impressive structure of the residence is the chandelier, which hangs down three stories. It is decorated with rubies and gold leaf, the builder claims.
Stairs and scheme of the third floor
The lower floor of the residence is designed for the relaxation of the president, his family and friends. There is a swimming pool, a hammam with a massage table and a jacuzzi.
Vladimir Putin’s bedroom
Lyudmila Putina’s bedroom
A bedroom of one of the President’s daughters on the third floor of the residence
A bedroom of one of the President’s daughters on the third floor of the residence
In 2013, Putin officially divorced Lyudmila, but he never stopped loving Valdai. It was here — at first, apparently, in the same “golden” house — that he brought his new mistress. He later built a new wooden mansion for Kabaeva and her children.
It is located about 800 meters from the “golden” house. Construction of the house for Kabaeva , according to satellite images studied by The Project × began in 2020.
Formally, the building stands on the land owned by LLC Prime, which is registered to Kovalchuk. This is a common practice for Valdai — a large part of Putin’s recreational facilities are located on Prime’s land. The 1200 sq. m. log house was built in two years, and upon completion it was also registered as Prime’s property. As our source familiar with the layout of the presidential residence told The Project on condition of anonymity, the wooden mansion was built specifically for Kabaeva.
In 2021, a boat dock was built near Kabaeva’s house. From it, one can take a boat across a small canal to a huge, classic palace park laid out on a 28-hectare plot. These lands were once the site of a tree nursery, where seedlings of conifers were grown to restore the national park, but then the land was leased on a long-term basis by Kovalchuk’s shell company. Located about the same distance from Putin’s and Kabaeva’s houses is a huge spa complex with a solarium, a cryochamber, a 25-meter swimming pool, a hammam, a sauna, a mud room, massage baths, cosmetology and dentistry areas . Alexei Navalny’s team talked about the complex in detail in 2021 × .
The Royal Bedkeeper and His Reliquary
The Project has already talked about how important to the president is his longtime friend Yury Kovalchuk. President’s mistress Svetlana Krivonogikh received a share in his bank, and he was also tasked with employing Kabaeva. The “gymnast” was given a formal but executive position in Kovalchuk’s National Media Group.
However, you only need to know one detail to understand the peculiarities of Kovalchuk’s personality and the scale of his wealth. Putin’s vassal receives so many gifts from his own vassals that he had to build a separate gift museum for them, the building of which is larger than the palaces of many prominent officials.
The Museum of Gifts to Kovalchuk is half an hour’s drive from Lake Ladoga, in the village of Koloskovo, Leningrad Oblast. It is an exact copy of the famous Pod Pavilion with its avant-garde architecture. Because of its bizarre shape, the builders who erected Kovalchuk’s museum call it a “larva” (the building in Kuala Lumpur is usually referred to as a “cocoon”) this comes from an interlocutor of The Project, who provided information about the house in Koloskovo to the editors × .
Among the exhibits are a tricycle, a Mercedes bicycle, a car of the same brand and a lot of premium furniture, as follows from the plan of the building, which became available to The Project.
It is hard to tell from this document which of the items are museum exhibits, and which the owner does sometimes use. For example, in one part of the museum there is a poker table and an “island table with a barrel of jamon” next to each other. Not far away from them are a television set, a grand piano, and a sofa.
The museum building and the land beneath it belong to Kovalchuk. The “maggot” has already managed to create difficulties for local residents — the house was built between the local lakes, blocking access to one of them. After activists sent complaints to the authorities, the State Environmental Control Committee first decided that there had been no violations during construction, but then ordered the local administration (but not Kovalchuk, of course) to provide access to the shore.
Constant presence of children in the residence is confirmed by the words of The Project’s interlocutor familiar with the operation of the Valdai facility, and indirectly by publicly available data. In particular, in the summers of 2020 and 2021, a small karting track was set up on the site of the former helipads , as evidenced by satellite images × . And right next to the residence, a large children’s playground in yellow and blue was erected deep in the woods between 2016 and 2020 , as also evidenced by satellite images × .
The cover-up operation for Kabaeva and her children, mentioned by The Project’s interlocutor, applies in full measure to the Valdai lands of the royal family as well.
Тайна ее имени
He [the old king] had become surprisingly suspicious of everyone for no reason, fearing that he might be deprived of power or diminished in it […] As for suspiciousness, all powerful sovereigns are like that, especially those who are so wise and have so many enemies and ill-wishers as he did. Moreover, he knew that he was not loved in the kingdom, either by great men or by lesser ones.
Philippe de Commin, Memoirs
The surroundings of Putin and Kabaeva’s Valdai residences are protected areas. Most of the forests there are protected not only by the FSO, but also by law: they are the territories of the Valdai National Park. This, however, did not hinder the large construction that began in 2018 right on the especially protected lands of the national park — it was decided to build a secret railroad there for Putin and his close ones. The Project has reason to believe that several secret railroad branches and stations of individual use have been built around the country in recent years for the aging Russian leader. What do we know about this?
During the time our correspondent has spent in Valdai, several locals told him with confidence that Putin has been using a personal armored train to travel to the lake over the past few years — ‘Dossier’ also reported on this train earlier × . For this reason, a secret, guarded station was built near his residence. Despite the secrecy, it was not particularly difficult to locate this station and the railway line leading to it.
Here is this station, it is located near the village of Dolgiye Borody, the nearest settlement to Putin’s residence.
If you look at the satellite images of this area, you can see a new section of road leading from the station to Putin’s residence, as well as a helipad. A branch line from the main railroad near the town of Valdai and the station itself , according to reports from environmental activists and satellite images × were built in 2019. The authorities publicly explained the works as “creation of a firebreak” , according to Sobesednik × .
The gates of the fenced and guarded station bear the emblem of the Ministry of Emergency Situations. One of the guards, speaking to The Project’s correspondent, described the facility as a “special station” and said that access is denied. According to local residents, when the president arrives in Valdai by train, he also uses a helicopter — a helipad has been built right on the territory of the special station × in order to cover the short distance separating the station from his residence. To make Putin’s Valdai vacations even safer, at the turn of 2022-23, the air defense system Pantsir-S1 was installed in the nearby village of Yashcherovo The Project reported about this earlier × .
If Putin comes to Valdai by a special train, he must leave from somewhere as well. The Project has discovered not only such a place, but also other secret railway stations and branches which were supposedly built for Putin near two other (besides Valdai) of his favorite residences — in Sochi and Novo-Ogaryovo.
Let’s start with the capital though — it also has a special station, which has long been used by the rulers concerned about their own safety. As you know, the use of special trains has long been traditional for aging dictators: Joseph Stalin used to prefer traveling by train, Leonid Brezhnev would also occasionally use a private train, and in recent decades the leaders of North Korea were the trendsetters in this sense. In 2001, after traveling all over Russia, Kim Jong Il arrived in Moscow on an armored train.
The arrival point of his train was the restricted special terminal at the Moscow-Kalanchevskaya station, near the Three Station Square. A correspondent of The Project verified that this special station was still in operation — the high fence surrounding it was additionally reinforced with barbed wire. In 2017, a new freeway for the presidential motorcade was laid right up to the platform of the station , according to satellite images × .
Neither Stalin nor Kim Jong Il traveled by train to Novo-Ogaryovo, so the special station that appeared there not so long ago was most likely erected just for Putin. According to satellite images, the station appeared in 2015 — it is located 400 meters from the residence. The land under the station belongs to the FSO — it was withdrawn from private ownership by the decree of then Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev. A new highway was built from Putin’s country residence to the station, just like at Valday. The station itself is designed for a small number of train cars and is hidden behind a high fence with security cameras every 10 meters.
In 2017, a new dead-end railroad track, concealed from the tracks used by commuter trains by a high fence, was built so that Putin’s train could stop near the Sochi residence of Bocharov Ruchei. There’s also a passenger platform to get off the train.
It also turned out that the fact that Putin has a special train has been no secret to experts — trainspotters (people who take pictures of trains) and railroad workers — for some time now. For example, in November 2018, the special train was caught on camera for the first time by a train fan on the Dobyvalovo — Valdai railroad line
, this is the last stretch before the new station near the Valdai residence
. Several special communications antennas can be seen on the train’s roof. In April 2020 the train caught the eye of trainspotters near the station “Moscow-Tovarnaya”, en route from Sochi. And in June — again in Moscow — the train was seen speeding to Valdai.
Finally, in January 2021, a trainspotter provided the following description of Putin’s train on one of the specialized websites: “There is a ghost train riding the railroads of our country. It is not listed in any schedules or Russian Railways systems; its windows are curtained, the locomotives bear no numbers or insignia, it rushes like mad, and all other scheduled trains give way to it. On the sides of its cars are emblems of Grand Service Express, and the plates on its sides always show the same route: Yevpatoria — St. Petersburg”. When contacted by a correspondent of The Project, the author of this post confirmed that he was talking about Putin’s special train and confessed that he “had problems with the FSO” after writing about it.
The transportation company Grand Service Express came to prominence after the annexation of Crimea. Russian railroads were wary of officially operating on the peninsula, as it could have resulted in sanctions. Instead of Russian Railways, it was the company Grand Service Express that provided rail services in Crimea. It was associated not only with Russian Railways, but also with Yury Kovalchuk.
A former train driver who worked on the route between Moscow and St. Petersburg told The Project that he had seen the special train several times and that two special railroad crews worked on it. The train was stationed at the depot at Moscow-Kalanchevskaya station, where there was a special terminal for VIP guests. “Previously, the railroad near Valdai was in terrible condition, you could go no more than 15-25 km/h on it. When they started to prepare the line to the Valdai residence, they repaired some of the existing tracks where Putin’s train was supposed to go, but they did not repair the sections that he did not need to use,” the former railroader recalls.
Anna Yakovlevna Zatsepilina, Alina Kabaeva’s grandmother, could well be called the richest babushka in all of Russia, as this text might suggest. The real estate registered in her name is worth about 1.1 billion rubles. In order to make sure that Kabaeva’s grandmother is merely covering up the secret life of her granddaughter, who actually owns these millions, our correspondent also went to the small village of Nikologory in the Vladimir Oblast. The reason for that was that Anna Zatsepilina had been registered in this village for many years, at the address of her maternal ancestors. Her house is an ordinary log cabin with double-glazed windows installed in recent years. This is what the millionaire grandmother’s house looks like.
Residents of Nikologory say that Kabaeva’s grandmother lived in this simple house (at least temporarily) until the fall of 2022, when she was “taken to the city for the winter” by another granddaughter — Olesya Fedina, the chaperone of the uncrowned tsarina of Russia.
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The Swiss clinic and the doctors involved in Kabayeva’s delivery did not respond to The Project’s inquiries. After receiving them, Thiebaud hid (or deleted) the photos taken in Moscow from her social media pages. Dmitry Peskov, Arkady Rotenberg, Yuri Kovalchuk and Bank Rossiya, the National Media Group, Sergey Rudnov, Ekaterina Golovacheva, Olesya Fedina and Ekaterina Yerkhan did not answer the questions of the Project, as well.
Editing by Roman Badanin
Fact checking by Ekaterina Reznikova
We thank the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) and Meduza for access to the leaked files of LLC Invest, which contain correspondence between structures of the Rossiya Bank and their contractors.
We would also like to thank Alexei Navalny’s team for the provided video footage.