Kremlin Tells US ‘Back Off’ Navalny Case As Viral ‘Putin Palace’ Story Deflated
For a second straight weekend, Sunday saw more protests break out across major Russian cities in support detained Kremlin critic and opposition activist Alexei Navalny, with Reuters citing that more than 5,300 were detained amid a police crackdown.
Moscow is again telling the US to butt out of its internal affairs after US Secretary of State Antony Blinken issued a statement condemning the arrests of demonstrators.
“The US condemns the persistent use of harsh tactics against peaceful protesters and journalists by Russian authorities for a second week straight,” Blinken tweeted Sunday. “We renew our call for Russia to release those detained for exercising their human rights, including Aleksey Navalny.”
In response Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov lashed out at the “illegal protests” which it had previously cast as being a manufactured controversy driven by outside support for the anti-Kremlin protest movement.
“We are not prepared to accept or heed American statements about this,” said Peskov.
“There can be no conversation with hooligans and provocateurs, the law should be applied with the utmost severity,” Peskov added of Navalny’s supporters.
The dissident has been urging them to take to the streets from his jail cell. Tens of thousands took to the streets this past weekend, with many again clashing with police donned in riot gear.
— Elizaveta Vereykina (@LizaVereykina) January 31, 2021
Russia’s prison service is urging a Moscow court to hand Navalny a sentence of up to three-and-a-half years in jail stemming from a 2014 criminal conviction for which he was on probation when in August of last year he was life-flighted to a Berlin hospital after an alleged nerve agent poisoning by Russian intelligence. He’s been accused of skipping probation and then not returning the Russian soil as was previously mandated by the court.
Currently Navalny is serving a 30-day jail sentence as the court mulls additional charges which stem initially from the 2014 embezzlement case, which he’s said was “politically motivated”.
Things have also gotten interesting regarding Navalny’s allegations that Putin has erected a $1.3 billion palace on the Black Sea. Navalny has charged that it was paid for “with the largest bribe in history”.
A video produced by Navalny’s team detailing the palace and alleging it was built using stolen government funds has gone viral over the past week. The footage is being featured prominently in Western mainstream media. Time magazine describes:
Two days after Alexey Navalny, head of Russia’s Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK) was arrested on his return to Moscow from Berlin, he released a video expose that shocked Russians and people around the world. In the video, “Putin’s palace. History of the world’s largest bribe,” Navalny alleged that an opulent property near Gelendzhik, a town in the southern Russian region of Krasnodar, was constructed for Russian President Vladimir Putin with illicit funds of $1.35 billion, provided by members of his inner circle, and that Putin is the real owner of the palace.
The Time report continues of outrageous expenses:
The palace’s features apparently include a port, a vineyard, a church, a casino, an underground hockey rink, and toilet brushes costing $850 a piece. “It is a separate state within Russia… And in this state there is a single, irreplaceable tsar. Putin,” Navalny said in the video. Allegedly covering an area of 17,691 square meters, it is the largest private residential building in Russia. Putin denied the claims. “Nothing listed there has ever belonged to me or my close relatives,” he said Tuesday.
Except the story is already fast being deflated, with massive holes being poked in the allegations.
Russian construction mogul Arkady Rotenberg (who is a very close friend of Putin) says he’s the real owner of a Black Sea property, dubbed ‘Putin’s palace’ by Alexey Navalny and Western media. Speculation about the site has gone on for a decade. https://t.co/1uS2rTTL8t
— Bryan MacDonald (@27khv) January 30, 2021
For starters, Russian billionaire Arkady Rotenberg has since come forward to say the so-called “Putin Palace” actually belongs to him.
“A video report about the vast palace, by Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny, went viral across Russia and has now been watched more than 100m times,” begins BBC, before doing to detail that “Mr Rotenberg, a billionaire with close links to Mr Putin, went public claiming to be the owner on Saturday. The revelation came in an interview posted on the pro-Kremlin Mash Telegram channel, before being confirmed to the Interfax news agency.”
“I have managed to strike a deal with creditors a few years ago, and I became a beneficiary of this site a few years ago,” Rotenberg’s press office said. The statement added that the Russian billionaire plans to turn it into a hotel.
Remarkable story. Russian news org Mash visited the site of ‘Putin’s Palace’ on the Black Sea coast, featured in Alexei Navalny’s documentary.
They found a building site. No casino, no shisha lounge, and no stripper pole. Just a shell. pic.twitter.com/ZXSm0Kve9r
— Gabriel Gavin (@GabrielCSGavin) January 29, 2021
Here are clips from the original Navalny-produced documentary which was greatly enhanced with CGI, or computer-generated imagery:
Meanwhile, an investigative reporter with the Russian media news site Mash published a video which appears to debunk the original Navalny video. The reporter filmed fresh footage from the Black Sea mansion which appeared to reveal that Navalny’s video was “faked” and heavily edited.
The Mash footage shows what appears to be a partially finished building, but which still looks like an active construction site.
Critics have pushed back, however, claiming the Mash correspondent is “Kremlin-linked”.
Mon, 02/01/2021 – 19:00