Putin’s (not so) Secret Palace // Can Navalny’s Gambit Succeed?

The secret palace on the coast of the Black Sea is the newest and most expensive private residence in Russia. The French royal palace at Versailles has more rooms above ground, but no palace anywhere in the world has more space underground. Bombproof tunnels connect to a full-size hockey rink, an unending series of wine cellars, and a network of underground guest rooms.
There is a recreational tunnel leading down to the beach. Another tunnel leads to a balcony carved high up on the cliff face, just to view the sunset. There are tunnels cut out of stone to connect to the vineyards and the wine-producing facilities. Each winery has a custom-made bathroom in case the owner pays a visit.
There are, of course, a network of bridges, driveways, and tunnels to provide access to the many other buildings and facilities scattered across the grounds. One does not expect a “prince” to walk to his heliport in the cold, or to leave his private seaport in the rain.
The secret palace is more than just a mansion; it is a mini-kingdom 28 times the size of the country of Monaco. The original palace cost more than a billion dollars to build, but most of that was wasted. Much of the gilded interior had to be thrown out because of mold, mildew, and condensation.
Suppose the prince wants tea. A multi-story Chinese teahouse was built across a deep gorge just because it was the perfect spot for a cup of tea. That meant that a steel suspension bridge several hundred feet long had to be constructed so the prince could be driven in comfort from his teahouse back to his front door.
The front door to this secret palace is guarded by a gigantic wrought iron gate surmounted by a gold sculpture of twin eagles beneath a crown. It is a copy of the original gateway to the palace of the last “Tsar of all the Russias.” But no mere Romanov tsar lives here, not even a descendant of the old Russian aristocracy. The secret palace is home to someone much more powerful, a commoner who became a leader of an ultra-secret service within the Communist Party and rose to become the sovereign prince of the new Russia.
The servants at this palace are trained to preserve the prince’s identity. Every day, the servants are searched to ensure they have not brought cell phones or cameras onto the sacred grounds. No pictures of the prince are allowed. The servants have been trained not even to say his name out loud, in case anyone is listening.
Nothing in the Russian government records reveals who actually owns the secret palace. His identity is buried in an impenetrable series of offshore holding companies and front groups. But everyone who works within the palace knows the name of the prince. So does everyone in the nearby villages. Two of the contractors routinely invoice the Russia government for deliveries made to “Putin’s Palace.” Yes, President Vladimir Putin is the prince who lives in the secret palace. Everything in it is built to satisfy his tastes.

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