Vladimir Putin’s £1bn palace of pleasure: Grander than Versailles, it’s a monument to the Russian leader’s vanity – complete with lap-dancing room and ice hockey rink… allegedly paid for by oligarchs desperate for his patronage, writes RICHARD KAY
- Putin’s palace on Russia’s southern Black Sea coast swarms over 190,000sqft
- Russian leader is reputedly one of the richest men in the world worth £160bn
- Construction costs have reached a £1 billion according to Alexei Navalny
High on a clifftop overlooking a vast bay empty of shipping thanks to a mile-wide exclusion zone imposed by its autocratic owner, a giant glistening palace built to one man’s ludicrous vainglory peeps through a woodland screen.
For years ‘living like royalty’ has been the phrase by which ordinary people have focused their envies and ambitions.
But this gargantuan, surreal edifice, which swarms over 190,000 square feet, is beyond the delusions of grandeur of even the maddest of acquisitive monarchs.
In size and opulence it makes the homes of our Royal Family look positively diminutive and threadbare — and that is before we take so much as a glimpse through the keyhole.
For inside it is a temple to gaudy vulgarity and a monument to money-no-object bad taste.
A palace swarming over 190,000sqft on Russia’s southern Black Sea coast (pictured) is said to belong to Russian leader Vladimir Putin
Were it a film set, this might be the lair of a Bond baddie or the hideaway of a megalomaniac out to rule the world.
But this is no Hollywood dream-factory confection but rather, according to pictures leaked online, the home of Vladimir Putin, a sprawling pleasure palace which has slowly taken shape amid great secrecy on a peninsular jutting out into the Black Sea coast, not far from the resort town of Gelendzhik in southern Russia.
Bigger than Buckingham Palace, grander than Versailles, it dwarfs in scale the comparable home of any other global leader.
But in its extravagance it mirrors the remarkable rise and rise of President Putin who, in little more than three decades, has transformed himself from impecunious KGB officer to become — reputedly — one of the richest men in the world with a fortune of £160 billion.
A theatre – fitted with red curtains and a golden ceiling – is among a series of luxurious rooms inside President Putin’s £1billion ‘palace’
Just how he has enriched himself and on what he has lavished his money — from the palace’s lap-dancing den and casino to vast underground bunker containing an ice hockey rink — is the reason why these photographs have been disclosed.
They were released, along with an extraordinary 90-minute investigation into Putin’s wealth posted on YouTube, by supporters of Alexei Navalny, the Russian opposition leader and Putin’s nemesis, who continues to taunt the Kremlin despite being held behind bars.
The online dossier comes with floor plans and stunning three-dimensional visualisations of what its sumptuous interiors might look like, along with actual photos of many of the fixtures and fittings.
In many cases, they were able to match up the plans with photographs of the finished look.
Pictured: An interactive 3D image of a strip club fitted with a lap dancers’ pole allegedly inside Putin’s property
Publication has caused a sensation. The video was viewed more than 20 million times in under 24 hours. Navalny’s team says they produced their 3D images from blueprints from disgruntled contractors. They show palatial interiors of gold, marble and bespoke furniture of elaborate detail.
According to Navalny, the construction costs have, so far, reached a staggering £1 billion — and all of it, he alleges, financed with illicit funds provided by Mr Putin’s cronies and inner circle.
Navalny was arrested this week after returning to Russia following treatment in Germany for poisoning by the deadly nerve agent Novichok last summer.
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He said of his damning investigation: ‘It tells how, right now and for the past 15 years, the biggest bribe in history is being given and the most expensive palace in the world is being built.’
Palace, in fact, barely does this giant complex justice.
‘It is an entire city, or rather a kingdom,’ Navalny declares in his video. ‘It has impregnable fences, its own port, its own security, a church, a no-fly zone and even its own border checkpoint.’
Rather, he says, ‘it is like a separate state inside Russia’. And in this state there is a single and unchanging ruler, or as he puts it more bluntly, ‘Tsar Putin’.
For those used to the simplicity of our own Queen’s life behind palace gates, where there are unmodernised single-bar electric fires and breakfast cereals are dispensed not from gold or silver canisters but Tupperware containers, Putin’s monstrosity to vanity appears as though from another planet.
Just take the forested grounds that surround the place. They are said to be 39 times the size of the principality of Monaco.
Building began in 2005 with a reported budget of around £10 million. But, as an insider said, ‘things kept getting added’.
A lift to the beach was created, so too was a marina, an outdoor amphitheatre and indoor ‘winter’ theatre. A three-lane motorway for access was constructed, along with a three-berth helicopter pad. Even so, it is impossible to get close to it by land, sea or air. Independent high-voltage electricity lines and gas supply were installed.
Alighting on the first floor, visitors would find the guest bedrooms and an enormous master bedroom with its huge canopied four-poster bed and an adjoining bathroom of marbled splendour. Pictured: A artists’ impression of a luxurious bathroom in Putin’s palace
From the basement spas through to the upper floor imperial boudoir, no expense was spared for the simple reason, according to Navalny, that Putin wasn’t paying.
He maintains the money was looted in the Klondike days that followed the fall of the Soviet empire and when Putin began his climb to power.
For the famously athletic president, the palace boasts a gym — complete with judo mat — an indoor swimming pool with Corinthian-style columns, hammams, beauty and massage rooms and a hairdresser.
Nearby is the cocktail lounge and scores of preparation areas for meat and vegetables, a bakery and even an ‘egg-processing’ area. There are suites for doctors and waiters, managers and other staff too.
There is even what is described as a ‘dirt warehouse’ — a 200 sq ft rubbish bin room.
For the famously athletic president, the palace boasts a gym — complete with judo mat — an indoor swimming pool with Corinthian-style columns, hammams, beauty and massage rooms and a hairdresser. Pictured: A large swimming pool is claimed to be within the estate
The ground floor opens on to huge entertaining spaces. It includes a casino, an electric car-racing track, arcade machines, a theatre and stage that wouldn’t look out of place in the West End, a darkened space called a hookah room where guests could share flavoured tobacco and which also contains a lap-dancing pole.
There is also a library and a ‘musical living room’.
Alighting on the first floor, visitors would find the guest bedrooms and an enormous master bedroom with its huge canopied four-poster bed and an adjoining bathroom of marbled splendour.
‘You can’t call it a bedroom,’ says the dossier. ‘Here everything is like in the most aristocratic houses in Europe.’ One colossal room leads to another.
This floor also holds the indoor ‘winter garden’. Well, the winters are long and cold in this part of Russia.
Pictured: Images leaked online show a casino room complete with slot machines and a video arcade
Then there is the decoration — stucco, gold leaf gilding and inlaid marquetry everywhere as well as the ornate Italian furniture.
According to Navalny’s dossier, the furnishings include a £200,000 leather sofa — more than the average price of a two-bedroom flat in Russia.
‘Vladimir Vladimirovich (Putin) turned out to be a great lover of sofas,’ said Navalny. ‘There are 47 of them in his palace. I wonder if he sits on them all or just on the most expensive ones?’ One eye-catching piece is a table containing a hidden built-in bar. The price? A mere £40,000.
Sergei Kolesnikov, initially a collaborator on the project but then a whistle-blower after fleeing to the West, said what had started as a single house had become 20 buildings and with a budget that had long passed the billion-dollar mark. The opulence, he said, was reminiscent of the last days of the Tsars.
Astonishing 3D images of the estate’s interior allege ‘Putin’s palace’ features an arcade room (pictured), a spa and a theatre inside the mansion, along with an underground ice rink and even vineyards in the grounds
Photographs show that in the grounds outside is a hanger-shaped hump sunk into the ground and covered with vegetation. On closer inspection this was revealed to hold a 180ft long ice hockey rink.
Another futuristic building was identified as a greenhouse some 26,000 sq ft in size.
A tunnel cut into the hilltop to allow access to the sea also holds an immense viewing area, which doubles up as a panic room — should anyone be foolish enough to wish the dear leader harm despite the continuous presence of troops from the FSB, Russia’s state security service.
Anyone wishing to fish off shore has to apply for a permit from the presidential security service.
Pictured: ‘Putin’s palace’ includes a casino fitted with a number of poker tables and chandeliers
Beyond the palace perimeter lurk other Putin properties, including a dacha, a vineyard and wine-making facility and a Byzantine-style church that was imported from Greece.
The Kremlin denies that President Putin owns any palaces at all. However, Putin’s former businessman friend Mr Kolesnikov insists the funds for the palace were raised by a combination of ‘corruption, bribery and theft’.
Putin’s fortune has long been the subject of speculation. After the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, the young KGB agent returned almost penniless from East Germany, where he had been based, to his native St Petersburg.
He was said to possess a 20-year-old washing machine and little savings from his £200 a month salary. Yet within a decade he had become a millionaire and within 20 years was said to be one of the wealthiest figures on the planet with a watch collection alone valued at more than £400,000.
The money, say critics, did not come from manufacturing or conventional enterprise, but from his connections with oligarchs in the business world whom he helped to prosper by shielding them from bureaucracy.
With the kind of money he is now said to control, the cost of Putin’s Black Sea palace is almost small change.
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