Three Bodyguards and Their Riches

Three of President Putin’s top bodyguards appear to have been amply rewarded for their loyalty with some of Russia’s most valuable land.

Illustration: Natalya YamshikovaIllustration: Natalya Yamshchikova

In the Russian village of Barvikha, Viktor Zolotov’s son Roman presides over an estate featuring artificial ponds and paths that wind through lush green lawns.

An adjacent 1.2 hectares in the wealthy Rublevka region near Moscow sports the similarly luxurious home of Yury Chechikhin, Viktor Zolotov’s son-in-law. The question is how Zolotov’s family, heirs to a man who spent his entire career in government service, can afford such elegance.

In a recent YouTube video in which he challenges opposition leader Alexei Navalny to a duel in revenge for a corruption investigation, Zolotov says, “I really am not a poor man … When you were still sitting on a potty, I served in the army, worked in manufacturing, was an udarnik of Communist labor [a highly productive Soviet worker], and then went into business.”

But Zolotov’s business activities are absent from his official biography on the National Guard website, which details his rise through the Presidential Security Service, the Interior Ministry, and the National Guard itself.

Viktor Zolotov threatens opposition leader Alexei Navalny in a YouTube video. (YouTube)Viktor Zolotov threatens opposition leader Alexei Navalny in a YouTube video. (YouTube)

He rose to prominence in President Vladimir Putin’s inner circle from the position of bodyguard, and can be spotted in a long overcoat at Putin’s side in 1999 television footage that shows them exiting a plane together in Helsinki. In 2016, some 17 years later, Zolotov became head of the National Guard, leading more than 340,000 troops tasked with fighting terrorism, policing arms, regulating private security companies, and ensuring public safety. In short, he commands a well-armed and well-prepared army.

(For more on how Zolotov rose through the ranks, came to work for Putin, and met senior underworld figures in 1990s St. Petersburg, click here.)

His son and son-in-law’s properties are far from the only expensive real estate Zolotov’s family acquired. He and his relatives have also owned homes, land, and elite apartments in Sochi, Gelendzhik, Moscow, and the village of Yashcherovo, not far from the president’s official residence at Valdai.

Both his son Roman and son-in-law Yury acquired their property in the Rublevka through Rossa-Tsentr, a company owned by Agrokomplex Gorki-2, which was once a vast poultry-breeding facility. Though the former Soviet state bequeathed the property to some 1,100 workers and pensioners in the 1990s, much of it was handed out to Putin’s most trusted lieutenants, including Zolotov and other former members of the president’s personal security detail, as well as their families. The workers say they were swindled out of their holdings.

The plots owned by Zolotov’s son and son-in-law cover 2 hectares in a region home to Russia’s most expensive real estate. All in all, the properties may be worth more than 1.5 billion rubles (US$ 22.7 million).

Roman’s estate alone could fetch $10 million, enough to pay the average monthly pensions of a small Russian town.



A Modest Millionaire

A second person at Putin’s side during that 1999 visit to Helsinki was Oleg Klimentiev. According to two former colleagues and friends who spoke on condition of anonymity, he had met Putin and Zolotov in St. Petersburg, where he worked as a bodyguard for Mayor Anatoly Sobchak. Klimentiev then moved to Moscow as the deputy head of the Presidential Security Service under Zolotov. He later headed the agency himself and today serves as the first deputy director of the Federal Guard Service.

A former colleague recalls Klimentiev as modest, at least early on. When he moved to Moscow, the colleague said, Klimentiev settled down in “some kind of a slum.”

His fortunes changed. In May 2004, Klimentiev and his then-16-year-old daughter received two plots of land in the village of Soloslovo in the Rublevka. As with Zolotov’s son and son-in-law, the property had once belonged to Agrokomplex Gorki-2, the former Soviet poultry farm, and its workers. Klimentiev and his daughter sold their properties in 2015, driving his declared income up five-fold from the previous year to 21 million rubles (about $350,000).

And it wasn’t the family’s only Rublevka property.

In August 2009, Klimentiev’s wife Irina acquired almost a third of a hectare from Agrokomplex Gorki-2. This parcel was in Znamenskie Prostori, an elite cottage complex.

At the time, such a plot should have cost about 100 million rubles ($3.2 million), according to data provided by real estate agencies. Agrokomplex Gorki-2’s 2010 financial statements show it sold the property for just 2.3 million rubles ($75,700), or about 2.3 percent of market value.


Bodyguard Three and All His Relatives

The third Putin bodyguard who accompanied him to Helsinki was Alexei Dyumin, 27 years old at the time.

Dyumin started working as a member of Putin’s personal guard on Aug. 9, 1999, the same day Putin began his duties as Russian prime minister.

For almost 15 years, Dyumin accompanied the leader throughout Russia and abroad. He guarded the president as he shot a whale with a crossbow, is credited with driving away a bear from a mountain retreat as Putin slept, and played in the president’s night hockey league.

Soon, his career reached new heights.

In 2013, after undergoing professional retraining at the Military Academy of the General Staff, Dyumin was named deputy head of the Main Directorate of the General Staff, a military intelligence agency better known by its old title, the GRU.

Dyumin also headed the Special Operation Forces of Russia, which provided security for the 2014 Olympic Games in Sochi and then played a key role in seizing Ukrainian military and administrative facilities when Russia annexed Crimea.

For his work as part of this secret unit, Dyumin was named Hero of Russia, the country’s highest honorary title. Later, he became deputy defense minister. And in 2016, Putin appointed him governor of the Tula region. His reaction, as he told the newspaper Kommersant, was that of a loyal military officer: “I was appointed by the commander-in-chief, and I answered, ‘yes, sir!’”

In 2017, a recognized Russian think tank, Peterburgskaya Politika, named Dyumin as one of three possible successors to the Russian presidency.

According to reporters’ calculations, his relatives have been some of the greatest beneficiaries in terms of land acquired from the poultry farm on the Rublevka.

In late 2004, Gennadii Dyumin, Alexei Dyumin’s father, received 0.16 hectares in the village of Soloslovo from Zarya, a partnership controlled by security officers which had purchased 12 hectares from Agrokomplex Gorki-2 in August 2003. Many such recipients say they paid nothing for their land, and Zarya’s financial statements confirm these accounts.

In 2006, the elder Dyumin sold this plot for an unknown amount.

In 2009, Alexei Dyumin’s brother Artem acquired almost a third of a hectare in Znamenskie Prostori, the same settlement where Klimentiev’s wife Irina got her valuable property. And like Irina, he got the plot for about 2 percent of its market price, just 2.2 million rubles ($69,400). The sales took place at about the same time.

In 2012, Artem Dyumin purchased Irina Klimentieva’s plot and combined it with his own, bringing his holdings to almost 0.7 hectares. Within two years, he built a house totalling almost 1,000 square meters on the property. Drone footage shows a large pond and an unusual architectural composition that looks like a cascading fountain.

According to reporters’ calculations, the total value of this estate could approach $8 million.

Alexei Dyumin’s brother-in-law, a man named Vladimir Mikheichik, also did well. Since 2016, Mikheichik has headed a state-owned airline, the “224th Air Detachment,” which belongs to the Ministry of Defense. Its main customer is the president’s administration.

In 2012, Mikheichik acquired almost 0.6 hectares and a house of over 600 square meters in the village of Barvikha, not far from the Zolotov family estates. Some of the land came directly from Rossa-Tsentr, the Agrokomplex Gorki-2 subsidiary that sold plots to the Zolotovs. The rest, and the house, also originated from Rossa-Tsentr, but was sold to Mikheichkik through a long-time partner of the poultry farm’s new owners.

The current market value of Mikheichik’s estate could be about $5 million, based on real estate companies’ estimates.

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