Gleb Karakolov is a senior figure who has fled Russia and speaks openly about his past serving Putin. He took a flight from Kazakhstan to Turkey on October 14 last year with his wife and daughter.
At the same time, he hung up his phone and said a silent goodbye to life in Russia as his heart pounded with excitement, he says.
Karakulov was an officer in Putin’s secret elite force who had one mission: to look after the Russian president. He brings with him deep knowledge of Putin’s life and possibly classified information.
– Our president has become a war criminal. It’s time to end this war and stop being silent, says Karakulov.
Morals and fear of life
He says it was morality that made him drop out, as well as fear for his life.
He is now speaking out, despite the danger it would cause him and his family.
His story is very similar to what other defectors have told. It paints a picture of Putin as a charismatic leader who has become progressively more isolated. Putin does not use cellphones or the Internet and insists on accessing state TV channels wherever he goes, says Karakulov.
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The defector also provided new details about how Putin’s paranoia appears to have worsened since he went to war with Ukraine last February. The chief prefers not to fly anymore, and instead travels on an armored train. He also ordered the construction of a bunker at the Russian embassy in Kazakhstan, with secure communication lines, says Karakulov.
He also says that Vladimir Putin’s all-out invasion was the last straw for him. Karakulov calls it all “madness”.
– There is a crazy and terrible war going on. Karakulov says it must be stopped as soon as possible.
The information a defector has with him may be worth its weight in gold to the West. An unnamed source with a security background in a NATO country says there is a great deal of interest in such information.
– This can be considered as a serious blow to the president himself, because he is very concerned about his security, and his security is now being affected, according to the source.
The Kremlin did not respond to questions for comment on the case.
Karakolov was responsible for establishing secure lines of communication for Putin and his prime minister when they moved out of the Kremlin. Karakulov has worked closely with Putin and watched him behind closed doors from 2009 until he fled last year.
Putin is in good shape
Now the maverick lives at a hidden address. The File Center, which was founded by Russian opposition leader Michal Khodorkovsky, has interviewed him several times. They shared interviews with the news agency AP and NRK in Norway, DR in Denmark and SVT in Sweden.
The file center checked Karakolov’s passport and identity card from the security forces and checked his information against publicly available material in Russia as well as the leaked files. The AP has reviewed this.
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At the same time, Karakolov’s identity and personal details were confirmed by three sources in the United States and Russia. The Associated Press also received confirmation that Karakolov is now wanted in Russia for desertion at a time when there was a military mobilization.
Karakulov says he has taken more than 180 trips with Putin. He says that Putin, contrary to some rumors, is in better shape than most people his age. The defector says the president has only canceled a few trips because of illness.
I’ve never seen him with a cell phone before. All the information he gets is from people close to him. That’s it. Karakulov says he lives in a kind of information vacuum.
– simply afraid
Putin’s favorite train looks like any other, but it’s armored. Karakulov says Putin doesn’t like you being able to track air traffic.
– I understand that he is simply afraid, he says.
Karakulov says the train was used regularly in the construction phase before the attack on Ukraine. Putin also insisted that strict corona rules were followed last year, even though the epidemic was on the decline. The guards in the security forces entered the two-week quarantine in shifts, so there was always someone willing to travel with Putin on the train.
Karakulov also says that Putin has set up identical offices in several places. The details even the desk and the pictures on the wall are the same. Publicly, it could be said that Putin is in one office, when in reality he is in a completely different place, says Karakulov.
– He is my patriot
Trips are full of secrecy. When Putin was in Sochi, the security guards kept pretending that he was about to leave. They rolled planes and drove away convoys while Putin stayed.
– I think it was an attempt to confuse the intelligence services and prevent the assassination, says Karakulov.
He says he comes from a patriotic family and his defection surprised them. He couldn’t talk to his parents about the feelings he had before he ran away. He says they have been influenced by several years of media campaigns on state television.
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Karakulov denies that his actions are unpatriotic.
Patriotism is when you love your country. In this case our homeland must be saved because something crazy and cruel is happening, he said.
He asks others, particularly his colleagues, to follow his example and take the magazine out of their mouths.
– You must stop following these criminal orders. There are officers around the president all the time. You can just go in and point out that this is a crime. It is up to you to stop this madness quickly. I hope you will, says Karakulov, because it will save many lives.
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