Paranoid Putin has ‘armed divers search for assassins’ at seaside home

Vladimir Putin is so paranoid about being assassinated that he employs one of his bodyguards as a washing machine operator at his dacha in Crimea, a Russian security officer who has defected said.

The former guard, who now lives in Ecuador, also described how armed divers were deployed to swim around Putin’s private beaches looking for assassins.

“This is how much he fears for his life,” Vitaly Brizhaty told TV Rain, a liberal-leaning independent Russian TV station exiled from the country.

Mr Brizhaty was a dog handler for the Federal Protection Service (FSO) and was stationed at Olivye, one of Putin’s secret residences in Crimea, which Russia annexed from Ukraine in 2014.

His interview with TV Rain offered a rare glimpse into Putin’s workings.

‘It’s a fantasy place’

Mr Brizhaty claimed the Russian leader didn’t even fully trust his own guards and would regularly give out false information on how he intended to arrive in Crimea and also where he was staying.

“People were told ‘he’s resting at the dacha’ and everybody is running around guarding him but he could be in another place altogether,” he said.

His testimony correlated with that offered by another FSO officer who fled Russia in the wake of its full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

That officer claimed Putin would send decoy motorcades out from his residence near Sochi to fool people into thinking that he was flying back to Moscow.

Mr Brizhaty’s account was more granular, however, even describing the ways in which Putin allegedly wanted his staff to behave.

He described Olivye, Putin’s palace in Crimea, as a luxury “mini-city” that had to be fully operational constantly with fresh food and flowers.

“It’s a fantasy place,” he said. “There are fitness halls, fountains, beautiful parks, tea house barbecue zones and beaches.”

Russian opposition media have previously detailed the opulence of Putin’s multi-million-dollar residences, some of which are reportedly equipped with underground ice rinks, personal churches, banyas and tea houses.

Relatively little has been written about Olivye until now, although investigative journalists have said that it was built in the same style with privacy and luxury paramount.

Olivye is one of eight or so retreats that Putin is suspected of owning and although it is only lightly used, Mr Brizhaty said that it had to be operational 24 hours a day, seven days a week because staff never knew who was going to turn up and when.

Dmitry Medvedev, Russia’s former president, and Alexander Bortnikov, the head of Russia’s FSB security service, also have dachas nearby.

“If food spoils, it is just thrown out,” Mr Brizhaty said.

Armed FSO divers patrol the sea

Security was paramount for Putin amid the luxury, he added, claiming that security at the property had been increased since the start of the war in Ukraine with the number of guard dogs patrolling the site tripling to six.

He said that civilian contractors were mainly banned from the dacha and that staff had to hand in their mobile phones when they entered the compound. Armed FSO divers patrolled the sea around its private beaches, he added.

“Look at the people working in these dachas,” Mr Brizhaty said. “Even the position of washing machine operator had to be staffed by an officer.”

Mr Brizhaty said that he had fled the FSO because he didn’t support the war in Ukraine.

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