Gleb Karakulov, a Russian engineer, traveled to Turkey with his wife and kids on a flight that left Kazakhstan on October 14.
He turned off his phone to block out the barrage of urgent, furious texts, bid farewell to his life in Russia, and tried to slow his racing heart.
This, however, was no typical Russian defector. One of the rare Russians to flee and go public who have rank, knowledge of personal details of President Vladimir Putin’s life, and maybe access to classified material was Karakulov, an officer in Putin’s elite private security force.
Despite the dangers, Karakulov, who was in charge of secure communications, claimed that his moral objection to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and his fear of passing away there motivated him to speak out.
Karakulov’s description is consistent with those of others who portray the Russian president as a formerly charming but now more reclusive figurehead who demands access to Russian state media wherever he goes.
Also, he provided new information on how Putin’s paranoia has worsened since his choice to attack Ukraine in February 2022.
The first time Karakulov had ever received such a request, Putin ordered a bunker at the Russian embassy in Kazakhstan outfitted with a secret communications line in October.
According to him, Putin now likes to avoid flights and go on a special armored train.
An official with experience in security from a foreign government noted that a defection like Karakulov’s “has a huge level of interest.”
Requests for a reaction from the Kremlin did not immediately receive a response.
When the Russian president and prime minister traveled, Karakulov worked as an engineer in a field unit of the Federal Protection Service’s (FSO) presidential communications division to set up secure communications for them.
Despite not being one of Putin’s close friends, Karakulov worked for him for years, keeping an exceptionally close eye on him from 2009 until late 2022.
Due to security concerns, it could not communicate directly with Karakulov, his wife, and his child after they went underground.
The Associated Press, the Danish Broadcasting Corporation DR, Swedish Television SVT, and the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation NRK received video and transcripts of more than six hours of interviews with Karakulov conducted by The Dossier Center, a London-based investigative organization that Russian opposition leader Mikhail Khodorkovsky funded.
The Dossier Center verified Karakulov’s passport and FSO work identity card as genuine and cross-checked his biography against Russian official documents, leaked personal information, and social media postings, all examined by the AP.
Karakulov frequently traveled with an advance squad and carried a KAMAZ truck’s worth of specialist communications gear.
He claimed to have traveled more than 180 times with the Russian leader, and in contrast to popular belief, Putin seems to be in better physical form than most individuals his age.
He claimed that only a few of Putin’s trips had been postponed due to illness.
Putin does not need safe internet connectivity while traveling, in contrast to the Prime Minister, according to Karakulov.
He claimed, “I have never seen him with a mobile phone. “He just gets information through his friends and family, and that’s all. He thus exists in the sense of an information vacuum.
Karakulov’s desertion was a shocking turn of events for a family steeped in patriotic military heritage. Karakulov’s brother and father are currently serving members of the local administration.
Because of the influence of years of watching Russian state television on their thinking, Karakulov claimed he couldn’t inform his parents about his disappointment. Thus he kept his departure from them a secret.
But he insists he is a patriot and encourages others to speak out against the war.
According to him, patriotism is the love of one’s nation. “Something bizarre and dreadful is happening in this instance, and our motherland needs to be preserved.”