Security officer who fled Russia tells of Putin’s growing isolation

The Bell

Dossier, an investigative center linked to former Russian oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky, last week published an interview with a captain in the Federal Guards Service (FSO) who fled abroad in protest at the war. Gleb Karakulov served for 13 years in the FSO, which is responsible for the president’s personal safety. Karakulov's role involved providing secure communications for the head of state on work trips in Russia and abroad. Although he never once spoke to Putin during his career, Karakulov made almost 200 trips and understands very well how the president has become ever more isolated from the outside world.

  • Karakulov was only a couple of years away from retirement. However, he said that he “could not remain in the service of this president” after the war broke out and regards Putin as a war criminal. Karakulov “fled” from the FSO in October during a trip to the Kazakh capital, Astana, where Putin was taking part in the “Russia – Central Asia” summit. Karakulov, along with his wife and daughter, flew from Astana to Istanbul. In early November, the apartments of his relatives in Russia were apparently searched and the former officer was accused of desertion. Now, he faces up to 15 years in jail if he ever returns to Russia.
  • Putin does not use the internet or a mobile phone and gets all his information “only from people who are close to him,” according to Karakulov.  When preparing a “residence” (like a hotel suite) for a visit from the Russian president, he said, there is a requirement that Russian TV channels must be available.
  • According to Karakulov, Putin remains in self-isolation and those who plan to meet him are expected to spend two weeks in quarantine, even if the event is to last less than 20 minutes. “Everyone is at a loss as to why this is still going on,” said the FSO officer. He believes that the president is afraid for his health, although he has no “super critical” problems. In total, since 2009, Putin has canceled just a couple of trips due to illness, according to Karakulov.
  • Karakulov also said that on every foreign trip, Putin brings a “talking booth,” a 2.5m high cube with a workspace and a telephone through which you can speak without fear that the conversation will be intercepted by foreign intelligence.
  • Putin has changed a great deal since 2009, Karakulov told Dossier. “In terms of behavior, they are two different people,” he said in the interview. “We remember how, when the former FSB director became Prime Minister, and then president, he was so active, so energetic. Of course, until 2020 he was still just as active, judging by the many business trips he made. But now he is very closed off. He is putting up all possible barriers between himself and the world, maintaining the same quarantine, the same lack of information. His perception of reality is distorted.”

Why the world should care

Dossier describes Karakulov as the highest-ranking intelligence officer to leave the country since the war broke out. According to Karakulov, Putin has the support of almost all his colleagues, casting doubt on the theory that he could be overthrown in a coup.


Support The Bell!

The Bell's Newsletter

An inside look at the Russian economy and politics. Exclusively in your inbox every week.