Only a handful of people know the exact location where President Vladimir Putin celebrates its 70th anniversary Saint PETERSBOURG Friday, but critics say he is spending more and more time alone deep in nuclear bunkers.
The Kremlin announced that Putin would spend his birthday working. Bogged down, as it is, in tthe greatest self-made disaster of his presidencyy, it just raises more ominous questions about what kind of orders he’s going to issue on the big day. Backed into a corner, what does Putin plan next?
People who have known Putin for many years claim that the Russian leader is “nervous” and “tense” these days; online political groups speculate on Telegram that Putin plans “to use tactical nuclear weapons from a bunker, far from Moscow”, while Kremlinologists debate how to prevent an impending doomsday scenario.
Putin himself said he would respond to the grim daily news from Ukraine – where his army is suffering defeat after defeat – with “every means at our disposal”. This, he added, “is not a bluff”.
In an alarming symbolic gesture, he on Wednesday promoted one of his closest and most notorious allies, the head of the Chechen republic, Ramzan Kadyrov, now a general. His elevation came just days after Kadyrov called for a more drastic escalation in Ukraine, including the declaration of martial law in Russia’s border areas and the “use of low-yield nuclear weapons”.
The Russians are increasingly worried about the state of mind of their leader.
In his last public appearance, Putin was sunken and misty-eyed. He spoke to a group of teachers from a small office via Zoom. The idea was to celebrate “Teachers’ Day” on Wednesday, but Putin couldn’t help but rant about so-called “neo-Nazis” in Ukraine.
“That part looked really crazy,” Vitaly Shatrov, 17, a student from St. Petersburg, told The Daily Beast. “Putin, whom many compare to Hitler for violence against the Ukrainian people, speaks with professors from a bunker about the Nazis.”
Shatrov is so concerned about nuclear escalation that he clings to the idea of peace talks, as suggested by Pope Francis and Tesla boss Elon Musk, who have been ridiculed for suggesting that Ukraine actually accept defeat. “I’m afraid of a nuclear war. No politician in the world could calm Putin down. Instead, everyone laughs at him, threatens him, so he gets even crazier about the upside-down world he’s created.
One thing is clear: Putin has a wide choice of bunkers to retreat to. One of his favorite hideaways is in the Altai Mountains. Any taxi driver in the remote Ongudaysky region near the border with Mongolia will show you the way to “Putin’s bunker” or Altayskoye Podvorye. During the pandemic, locals told The Daily Beast about the presidential helicopter seen regularly in the air above the mountains. Locals speak of a giant underground bunker where all of Putin’s family members, as well as Gazprom and Kremlin employees, could hide from radiation in the event of a nuclear attack, but like much of the apparatus security of the president, this has never been officially confirmed.
Another famous hideout is nearly 1,000 miles from Moscow in the republic of Bashkortostan, in the southern Ural Mountains. The construction of this huge network of bunkers began under Boris Yeltsin, but the project was frozen after the fall of the USSR. Western spies have suggested that the huge underground complex could house between 100,000 and 300,000 people; others have suggested it was a nuclear command post or a secret weapons storehouse.
Putin’s whereabouts are often a subject of fascination in Russia. When he holds his meetings on Zoom it is unclear where he is, but during the pandemic it has become apparent that he has at least two identical offices, one in Moscow and the other at his residence. on the Black Sea, in the city of Sochi.
Gennady Gudkov, a former Russian parliamentarian in exile, told The Daily Beast that the president was taking precautions as the war in Ukraine spirals out of control.
“Putin will hide in a bunker in case of nuclear war,” he said. “But he’s not safe there either; it will be destroyed – that’s what Biden should make clear to Putin now.
Putin’s allies say the president’s nuclear threats are being overplayed outside the country, but they blame the West for it. “Russia will only strike in response to an attack. Decision-making to use nuclear weapons is complicated, it involves many people and there is no Kadyrov among them,” pro-Putin political analyst Yuriy Krupnov told The Daily Beast.
He said the average Russian – even in elite circles – knows he would have no protection if a nuclear conflict did break out. “No bunkers will help Moscow, of course. Maybe only the leaders have proper shelters.
Veteran human rights defender Valentina Melnikova, who has helped Russian families avoid conscription, said she was not so convinced the world was safe from nuclear war. “I’m sure our generals are capable of bombarding Kyiv and Washington with torpedoes and nuclear bombs. I say this because I know the Russian military well – they will obey Putin’s every order and there is next to nothing that can stop this disaster at this point.
Many more Russians are starting to think the unthinkable.
Perceptions have changed so much over the past two decades. At the start of Putin’s rule, few Russians would have believed that a journalist like Anna Politkovskaya could be murdered in central Moscow. And yet it happened – on Putin’s birthday – in 2006.
People’s understanding of what Putin might do is changing faster and faster.
A year ago, the majority of the public did not believe that the Kremlin would launch a full-scale assault on a neighboring country, such as Ukraine. Even then, they were certain there would be no mass mobilization – but, again, it is happening.
Russians have always been afraid of a nuclear war, but most of them never imagined that their own homeland would start one.
Now they are not so sure.