On Oct. 14, a Russian engineer named Gleb Karakulov boarded a flight from Kazakhstan to Turkey with his wife and daughter. He switched off his phone to shut out the crescendo of urgent, enraged messages, said goodbye to his life in Russia and tried to calm his fast-beating heart.
But this was no ordinary Russian defector. Karakulov was an officer in President Vladimir Putin’s secretive elite personal security service — one of the few Russians to flee and go public who have rank, as well as knowledge of intimate details of Putin’s life and potentially classified information.
Karakulov, who was responsible for secure communications, said moral opposition to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and his fear of dying there drove him to speak out, despite the risks to himself and his family. He said he hoped to inspire other Russians to speak out also.
“Our president has become a war criminal,” he said. “It is time to end this war and stop being silent.”
Karakulov’s account generally conforms with others that paint the Russian president as a once charismatic but increasingly isolated leader, who doesn’t use a cellphone or the internet and insists on access to Russian state television wherever he goes. He also offered new details about how Putin’s paranoia appears to have deepened since his decision to invade Ukraine in February 2022. Putin now prefers to avoid airplanes and travel on a special armored train, he said, and he ordered a bunker at the Russian Embassy in Kazakhstan outfitted with a secure communications line in October — the first time Karakulov had ever fielded such a request. [Continue reading…]