'Putin sealed himself from the rest of the world'

Gleb Karakulov worked as an engineer in the  Presidential Communications department. His duties included ensuring the secrecy of Putin’s communications. Last October, the officer escaped to Istanbul, together with his wife and daughter. In his interview with Iliya Rozhdestvensky from the investigative publication Dossier Karakulov confirms the stories about Putin's strict isolation and fear for his life. Meduza published a short summary of Karakulov's account.

Gleb Karakulov joined the Federal Guard in 2009. His job was to oversee the encryption of the president’s and the prime minister’s communications. The officer was attached to a unit that traveled with the head of state and the prime minister to locations both in Russia and abroad. Karakulov’s trip to Astana was the last of his 183 or 184 trips while in the FSO.

When he left, Krakulov was less than two years away from retirement. His plan had been to pay off his mortgage and then leave the service. But when Russia invaded Ukraine, compromising with his conscience in Putin’s service became intolerable:

'I just couldn’t remain in this president’s service. I consider this man a war criminal. Although I didn’t take part in combat as such, following his criminal orders and even simply remaining in his service became impossible for me.'

When the invasion first became reality, Karakulov took a three-month sick leave. After that, he applied for a new foreign passport and began to plan on how to leave the FSO. When Putin declared mobilization, the officer realized that he wouldn’t be able to resign from the military, since, if he did, he would be 'automatically' sent to the front as an officer of the Russian reserve.

When he learned about the upcoming trip to Astana, where Putin was attending several meetings, Karakulov decided to defect. He and his colleagues arrived in Kazakhstan on October 6, and two days later his wife and daughter flew there separately. During their whole stay in Astana, the couple only met once, when Karakulov’s wife came to pick up his suitcase, since he himself couldn’t escape from the hotel carrying luggage.

On October 14, the last day of the scheduled trip, Karakulov told his co-workers that he wasn’t going to go shopping with the rest of them because he felt sick. At 3 p.m., he and his family headed to the airport. Although he worried that the special marks in his passport might create problems when trying to board a flight with his family, no one raised any questions. He switched off his cell phone before the flight, and only turned it on again after they had landed in Istanbul.

Adoration of the 'Boss'

When talking about his service in the FSO, Karakulov notes the pervasive adoration of Putin among the officers, who all call the president 'Boss'. Half of the Federal Guard, he says, believe that missiles should have been used back in 2014 to flatten the Kyiv Maidan Uprising before it even started. Personnel routinely speak of the invasion as completely unavoidable.

Karakulov says he never talked to Putin personally. The president doesn’t use the Internet or a mobile phone. Information is delivered to him by As a result, the president inhabits what the former serviceman calls 'an information vacuum.' Isolation is evident on all levels: all personnel still have to quarantine before every event where Putin is expected, 'even though everyone is a bit bewildered that this is still going on.'

Officers don’t usually talk about Putin’s health, but in all the years Karakulov spent in the Federal Guard, only one or two of Putin’s trips were canceled for medical reasons. He believes the president to be in excellent health. When talking to a member of Putin’s security team, he heard that Putin and Alina Kabaeva live together. It’s also true, says Karakulov, that Putin often travels by armored train, and has been using it actively since the summer of 2021. Another interesting detail of Putin’s travel routine is that a special 'communications booth' is brought with him on every trip. The insulated 8-foot-high cube contains a workstation and a phone, and enables the president to communicate with 'guaranteed secrecy.'

When asked whether Putin has changed since 2009, when Karakulov first joined the FSO, the officer replies:

'Behaviorally, these are two different people. We remember the former FSB director becoming a prime minister, then president again, and he was very active and energetic. Judging by his traveling schedule, he was just as active until 2020, since he really did travel a lot. But now he’s isolated himself. He’s sealed himself from the rest of the world with all kinds of barriers, with things like the quarantine, for example, and with a lack of information. His perceptions of reality are now distorted.'

The full version of the interview (in English) is available from Dossier



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