This tale involves a construction company linked to Putin that reportedly received money from the budget of the city of St. Petersburg, where Putin was mayor from 1990 to 1996. The company subsequently bought property in Spain to construct villas for Putin’s friends, reportedly using Russian army labour through Spanish contractors.
“These kinds of reports led Spanish police to become suspicious of Russian activity in Spain, and in the 1990s they began monitoring the Russian oligarch Boris Berezovsky, as well as several well-known leaders of Russian organised crime, all of whom had houses on the southern coast of Spain,” Applebaum writes. “In 1999, to their immense surprise, their recorders picked up an unexpected visitor: Putin. He had arrived in Spain illegally, by boat from Gibraltar, having eluded Spanish passport control.”
At the time of the secret visit, Putin was serving as the head of the FSB (the post-Soviet successor to the KGB). Spanish papers said he crossed into the country on forged documents as many as 37 times altogether. The former KGB lieutenant colonel became Russian prime minister in August 1999 and president in May 2000.
Interestingly, it was Berezovsky who is credited with playing kingmaker when Putin was pegged to succeed an ailing Boris Yeltsin as Russian president.
“Putin was Berezovsky’s creation,” former Berezovsky acquaintance Owen Matthews wrote at The Daily Beast, noting that “Berezovsky thought he’d found a safe pair of hands” for the elite created in the wake of the Soviet Union’s immediate demise.
But as Dawisha and Applebaum detail, Berezovsky’s place at Putin’s table was not safe.
“Soon after taking over, [Putin] made it clear that he intended to remove the Yeltsin-era elite and to put a new elite in its place — mostly from St. Petersburg, equally corrupt, but loyal exclusively to him,” Applebaum writes.
In her book, Dawisha notes that “
there were also separate allegations that Putin visited Spain on forged documents during the period 1996-2000 in connection with business meetings between himself, Boris Berezovsky, and Russian crime figures. Both these sets of allegations would follow him into the presidency.”
Berezovsky fled Russia in 2000 and told Matthews in 2005 that he was ready to finance revolutionary change in Russia, adding that “the regime could only be changed through violence.”
Berezovsky was found dead in his London home in a reported suicide in March 2013.
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