Putin's yacht escaped through Northern Sea Route. Almost at the same time, route operator Rosatom closed down its online ship tracker
Putin’s war of aggression is about to drag Russia into an economic, social and moral abyss. Nevertheless, the state leader has since the start of the onslaught been frantically preoccupied with the follow-up of his luxury yacht Graceful.
In a comprehensive report, investigative journalists and anti-corruption activists Georgii Alburov and Maria Pevchikh reveal how Putin and his friends since the start of the full-scale war have spent more than 3 billion rubles (€32 million) on the renovation of the Graceful.
The level of luxury on board is comparable with Putin’s palace in Gelendzhik on the Black Sea coast, the journalists say.
In the middle of Russia’s bloody war against Ukraine, vast sums have been spent on the upgrade of Putin’s yachts, the investigative team of Aleksei Navalny has found out.
The investigation describes how the Russians were desperate to get the 82-meter long yacht out of the German Bluhm and Voss shipyard ahead of the 24th of February 2022, and bring it to a Russian port.
As ship was about to leave the German port of Hamburg, hackers broke into marine traffic services and renamed the vessel’s destination FCKPTN.
Through an advanced scheme of supplies and transactions involving several companies in the EU, Putin’s men subsequently managed to evade sanctions and complete the upgrade in yards in Kaliningrad and St.Petersburg.
But how to bring the ship to Putin’s favourite waters off Gelendzhik?
According to Alburov and Pevchikh, the Graceful was taken from St.Petersburg, through the White Sea Channel and further along the Northern Sea Route to the Pacific Ocean. From there, it sailed all the way to Sochi on the Black Sea coast.
At the same time, the ship was temporarily renamed Kosatka.
The logistical operation was conducted in close cooperation with Rosatom, the nuclear power company that is in charge of Northern Sea Route developments.
The Graceful has no ice protection and is highly vulnerable in the harsh and remote Arctic waters. It is not clear whether the yacht independently sailed in escort with a nuclear-powered icebreaker or if it was put on a heavy lift carrier.
But the operation is likely to have happened in the course of August. Rosatom has an online registry with updated information about the ships granted permission to sail on the route. But it includes no information about the Graceful, nor about the “Kosatka.”
In addition, Rosatom suddenly closed an online daily survey of ship traffic in the area. Until early August, the survey displayed the names of the vessels located on the route, as well as their destination and exact location.
The Barents Observer on the 16th of August took contact with Rosatom about the breakdown of the service, but got no response.
The Graceful was originally built for Putin in 2013. Its hull is built at the Sevmash yard in the Russian North, but the remaining outfit was made in Germany. Despite the high level of luxury and initial cost of about $100 million, the standards were deemed unsatisfactory by Putin and a large-scale upgrade was initiated.
The Graceful is one of several ships owned by Putin. All of them are funded through intricate financial schemes operated by Russian oligarchs like Gennady Timchenko and Arkady Rotenberg. The biggest and most lavish is the Scheherazade, a 140 meter long yacht that is reported to have cost $700 million before the installation of interior decorations.
Putin was not able to save the Scheherazade, that is today under arrest in the Italian port of Marina di Carrara.
The yachts of Putin are all manned by members of the Federal Protective Service (FSO), the government agency responsible for the protection of high-ranking state officials, including the president.