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‘Ghost trains’ and armoured limos: how Vladimir Putin travels in secret luxury

Images of the interior of Vladimir Putin’s luxury train, equipped with anti-ageing machines and a Turkish bath, have been leaked for the first time – offering a rare glimpse into the Russian president’s day-to-day life.

Putin is “famously guarded about his private life,” said the Australian Daily Telegraph, refusing to release “even simple details like how many properties he owns, whether he has a girlfriend or even whether he is father to a reported family of secret children”. His public image is carefully manicured and the extent of his wealth remains a mystery, although some suggest it could run into hundreds of billions of dollars.

Now leaked documents and photographs published by CNN have revealed details that the Kremlin “shrouds from public view”, and the extent to which “Putin’s paranoia has created a cloistered existence”.

‘Ghost train’

Photos and plans obtained by the London-based Russian investigations group the Dossier Center, led by Mikhail Khodorkovsky, former oligarch turned major Putin critic, reveal life inside Putin’s lavish 22-car “ghost train” as it was dubbed by amateur trainspotters.

Features include a fully equipped gym or “sports-health wagon”, a full cosmetology centre including skincare and massage parlour with “anti-ageing machines” designed to tighten the skin, a tiled and fully equipped Turkish bath steam room, along with bedrooms, ornate dining cars and a cinema.

As well as serving as a mobile communications hub, the train’s design also prioritises the president’s safety at all times. Many parts of the train are reportedly armoured to prevent the use of listening devices, doors and windows are made with bulletproof material and life-saving medical equipment is always on board. Its exterior is disguised to look like a normal train. Dozens of crew members needed to operate the train wait in quarantine to protect Putin from illness.

According to the Dossier Center, the train cost the Russian taxpayer around $74 million, with annual upkeep running to $15.8 million.

Putin’s “extensive train usage has long been a matter of public record”, said the New York Post, with the Kremlin previously releasing images of him conducting state meetings in gilded rooms. However, the Kremlin has been quick to deny that the leaked images are of Putin’s train, with a Russian official telling CNN “President Putin does not have such a car in his use or in his ownership”.

Putin’s paranoia problem

Putin’s former speechwriter, Abbas Gallyamov, who now lives in Israel, told CNN Putin’s “feeling of political insecurity I think led to him start feeling more and more physically insecure”.

A growing “paranoia”, as Gallyamov described it, has caused the Russian leader to increasingly cut himself off from the world, and, “ironically, might be a reason for the extreme comforts built for his train” said CNN.

The latest leak, which the Dossier Center said came from an insider at Zircon Service, a Russian company tasked by the state-owned Russian Railways with outfitting the cars, will likely only add to Putin’s paranoia.

Tank-like limos and diversionary planes

While the lavishly decked-out train “seems to be the choice way for the paranoid Putin to move across the countryside and maybe get his Botox fix on the go, too”, said Uproxx, it is by no means the only way the president travels.

His primary mode of transport by road is via a fleet of “tank-like limos that are almost battle-ready”, reported The Times of India.

The armoured Aurus Senat limousine, which can go from zero to 100 km/h in six seconds, is able to withstand armour-piercing bullets and grenade attacks. While many features remained classified for security reasons, “we can only assume the limo will be equipped with substantial firepower, life-saving and firefighting equipment in case of attack”, said the newspaper.

When travelling by air, Putin takes even greater precautions. Last December, Yahoo News reported three aircraft taking off simultaneously from Moscow and St Petersburg in an effort to conceal his true route for a trip to Belarus.

Gleb Karakulov, a former captain in the Federal Security Service, which protects the Russian president, who defected last year and was interviewed by the Dossier Center, said Putin has increasingly turned to train travel as a way to avoid being tracked.

“The plane, as soon as it takes off, it immediately crosses flight radar,” Karakulov said. “The train, it is used in order to somehow hide these movements.”

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