Putin’s Palace: A History of the World’s Largest Bribe Review

Why Alexey Navalny’s Arrest Matters


Photo courtesy of Creative Commons

Navalny leading a protest in Moscow in 2013 about the results of the 2011 Russian legislative election. He was arrested two years earlier for participating in the same protest.

Jaden Kolenbrander, Reporter

 If you have paid attention to the news recently, you may know about Alexey Navalny and his campaign to expose the corruption that plagues the modern Russian government. But what some seem to not know is of the documentaries that he has released, part of the reason why he has become such a famous political activist in Russia. 

His Youtube channel, which currently features over 1 billion views, is mainly used by Navalny for publishing documentaries that often delve deep into the intricacies of the Russian government and how it has become an oligarchy or a country ruled by a few people at the top, powered by bribes and backroom deals which blur the lines between the government of Russia and its corporations. For this, he has become what the media describes as “Putin’s worst enemy.” The video I’m covering today, “Putin’s Palace,” holds over 100 million views on Youtube and has been watched by one in four Russian citizens. 

Rather than immediately presenting the facts of the matter, the first minutes of the video are dedicated to its backstory: Navalny was on an airplane when he started feeling aches and pains before convulsing and falling over. Eventually, it was discovered in a hospital in Berlin that he had been poisoned with Novichok, a nerve agent previously utilized in Soviet Russia which was traced back to Putin’s government through a phone call Navalny did with his own assassins, masquerading as an official. Now, he comes back to Russia while the documentary is released, not afraid of any other tricks Putin will pull and in the perfect location to analyze his past.

Rather than attempt a cut-and-dry case of corruption with the subject of the documentary, “Putin’s Palace” tries to paint a psychological profile of Putin through his history as a member of the Stasi, a secret police agency in communist East Germany, and as head of the Committee for External Relations in the Russian city of St. Petersburg. It establishes two concrete truths essential to understanding Putin’s career: one, he has always used any means necessary to achieve his goals and two, the reason he has so much power today is because of the colleagues and acquaintances he met along the way. The heads of two of Russia’s largest companies, Rostec and Transneft, were both Stasi officials that Putin befriended, and his time in municipal government was marked by embezzlement of funds belonging to the Russian people.

The documentary is incredibly thorough in its next segment, a tour of Putin’s Palace, a name given to a complex built-in remote Gelendzhik, which Russia reported to have cost $1.35 billion dollars and funded by Putin’s cronies. With sweeping camera shots and meticulously drawn-out building plans, Navalny guides us through the luxuries that Putin purchased himself: an in-house casino, a theatre, a swimming pool, spas and saunas, wine cellars and individual sofas equivalent to the cost of a large car. 

The research required was, at times, life-risking to acquire. Footage of Putin’s palace was recorded by illegal drone shots that others have been arrested for trying to get, while the plans are from anonymous construction workers that built the palace. Putin has tried everything to keep it under wraps, but now a quarter of Russia’s population knows that their tax money is being funneled towards Russian elites, such as business owners and Olympic athletes, who pay for Putin’s palace, rather than towards aging infrastructure, education or the poverty rampant throughout Russia. Navalny started his career in politics in the year 2000. After organizing protests during Putin’s re-election in 2012, he became one of his most vocal opponents and one of his most feared individuals for his outreach and his influence. That’s why this year, Navalny flew to Moscow and was arrested on charges of violating probation, although they were years old and were clearly motivated by the recently-released documentary. 

Available on Youtube and nearly two hours long, it is an in-depth look into the web of corruption that Putin created with his entrance into Russian politics. It is one of the most effective displays of how journalism can inform the population of incredible injustice that the system otherwise tries to silence.