In 2010 some minor Russian businessman, Sergei Kolesnikov, who had pissed off people above his pay grade, resettled from Russia to Estonia. To make himself interesting, and likely to get financial support, he made up a story. David Ignatius, the CIA’s resident writer at the Washington Post, picked it up:
You can see the sprawling, Italian-style palace on the Black Sea in satellite photos. There’s a fitness spa, a hideaway “tea house,” a concert amphitheater and a pad for three helicopters. It’s still under construction, but already the cost is said to total more than $1 billion.
And most amazing of all, according to a Russian whistleblower named Sergey Kolesnikov, it was predominantly paid for with money donated by Russian businessmen for the use of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. The funds have come “mainly through a combination of corruption, bribery and theft,” charges Kolesnikov, a businessman who until November 2009 worked for one of the companies he alleges was investing money for Putin.
In 2012 BBC Newsnight again picked up the story and made it into a nine minutes long anti-Putin segment.
On a thickly wooded mountainside overlooking Russia’s Black Sea coast, an extraordinary building has gradually taken shape. It is alleged to be a palace built for the personal use of Vladimir Putin, with massive and illegal use of state funds.
Originally conceived, it is said, as a modest holiday house with a swimming pool, it now boasts a magnificent columned facade reminiscent of the country palaces Russian tsars built in the 18th Century.
The massive wrought-iron gates into the courtyard are topped with a golden imperial eagle. Outside are formal gardens, a private theatre, a landing pad with bays for three helicopters, and accommodation for security guards.
At the end of 2020 the ‘Putin’s palace’ story was recycled to promote the rightwing Russian nationalist and anti-corruption campaigner Alexey Navalny. Navalny was at that time in Germany’s Black Forrest area where he recovered from an alleged poisoning. A studio was needed to produce a video about the ‘palace’.