Seven months ago, a Russian businessman came forward with what he said was evidence that Russia’s Prime Minister Vladamir Putin was, at great expense, building himself a luxurious palace off the shores of the Black Sea, a charge the Russian leader has denied.
 
Last week, a handful of environmentalists and political opposition party members made their way to the site of Putin’s alleged fairytale home to check out the mysterious place and assess its environmental impact.
 
In January, the FRANCE 24 Observer’s website published an article on the controversy triggered by photos published on the internet of Putin’s seaside palace near the southern town Paraskoveevka, on the Black Sea. The site also published comments made by Sergei Kolesnikov, a Russian businessman who had been involved in the building’s construction, and who maintained that the prime minister was its true owner. Although officially classified as a centre to be used for medical care, Kolesnikov was able to use a paper trail detailing the building’s financing to link it to Putin.
 
In the wake of these revelations, Putin’s spokesperson denied any connection between the prime minister and the property. In March, the palace and its surrounding land were bought by the Russian millionaire, Alexander Ponomarenko. According to Kilesnikov, the building’s sale was nothing more than a smoke screen to conceal the property’s true owner, Vladimir Putin.
 
A few months later, after realising that construction on the controversial seaside estate was still going on, a group of environmentalists from the Russian organisation Ekovakhta and members of the Yabloko and Solidarnost political opposition parties decided to launch a “public inspection” of the area. On June 26, about a dozen or so ecologists and activists trespassed onto the immense coastal property, ignoring the fence erected around the site.
 
Activists trespass on palace property and even go for a dip in the Black Sea. Video published on You Tube by EnWNC on June 28.
 
After managing to sneak by a group of men claiming to be guards (see the video below), a number of the activists entered the property and took a dip on the palace’s private beach. The police were soon called to escort the intruders from the property.
 
The day before, another group of environmentalists were arrested and their ringleader jailed for five days, after performing a similar “public inspection” of the alleged private residence of  the head of Russia’s Orthodox Church. The property is also located in the same area as Putin’s estate (like Putin, the Russian Orthodox Church has denied that their head is the owner of this property).
 
 

“A marina for yachts was being built without anyone knowing”

Suren Gazaryan was one of the participants in the June 26 “public inspection” of the luxurious seaside palace allegedly owned by the Russian prime minister. He is a member of the North Caucasus Ecological Watch and works as a researcher studying the ecology of mountainous regions.
 
We went to explore the Paraskoveevka area for the first time in 2005, when construction of the mansion first began. At the time, the project was managed by the presidential department of property management. It wasn’t until February 2011 that we finally managed to enter the building site, but we were intercepted by Federal Security Service (FSO) officers and employees of a private security agency called Rubin. They stole all of our stuff [cameras, telephones, GPS, notebooks, money…]
 
Later, Sergey Kolesnikov [the businessman who accused Putin of being the property’s true owner], described the mansion’s building plans to me in an interview over Skype. But he told me he didn’t know what was being built on the beach. So I rounded up a group of friends and activists to go down to the site so we could perform a ‘public inspection’ on the coast of ‘Putin’s palace’ to see what was going on there.
 
Once there, we discovered a marina for yachts was being built, which is completely illegal. This project had never been discussed in a public arena and had not been approved by the state’s environmental experts.
 
Activists trespass on palace property June 26. Photos courtesy of Suren Gazaryan.
 
“We condemn the privatisation of a public forest characterised by its unique flora”
 
The palace property is owned by a private company called Indokopas, which, until March, was a subsidiary of the Swiss company Lirus Management. According to Kolesnikov, Vladamir Putin owns Lirus. [Lirus is a subsidiary of Rosinvest LLC, which was created at Putin’s request in 2005, making the prime minister its main beneficiary, Kolesnikov alleges. In addition, Kolesnikov claims Putin’s personal friend Nikolai Shamalov created Rosinvest as a way to reinvest foreign funds donated to Putin by his circle of millionaire friends]. After our visit in February, the palace and the Indokopas company were sold to Russian businessman Alexander Ponomarenko.
 
We seriously doubt that it’s legal to bulldoze a forested area in order to create space for a new building structure and then subsequently privatise the land. This is why Ecological Watch and Greenpeace Russia wrote to President Dmitri Medvedev in April. We said in the letter that the barriers that had been erected around the site violated our right to freely visit the forest and the Black Sea coastline in the area.
 
We also alerted Medvedev that the privatisation of a forested area characterised by its unique flora, its illegal razing (notably leading to the elimination protected species within the forest), and the development of property on this site constituted a dangerous precedent and couldn’t have happened without the cooperation of certain federal authorities. We asked him to examine the situation.
 
The presidential department of property management gave us a vague response on the subject. That’s why we’ve decided to act”.

"Putin's palace" in pictures

"Putin's Palace". Video published on You Tube by detected35on January 18.

Mansion allegedly owned by head of Russian Orthodox Church

Photos taken in March, courtesy of Ecological Watch.