In plotting a war against Ukraine, Vladimir Putin changed his travel arrangements, more and more often choosing a special armored train over planes of the presidential detachment, writes the Dossier Center, citing a source close to the Presidential Administration.
According to the publication, the train was prepared for the head of state back in 2014-2015, but Putin only started using it regularly in the latter half of 2021, as he began preparing for the invasion of Ukraine. The company that owns the train is linked to the nephew of Yuri Kovalchuk, a Rossiya Bank shareholder and a close friend of the president's.
“Train departures can be spontaneous, unannounced. In the early days of the war in February and March, he began to use the train very actively, especially to get to his Valday residence,” said the source.
As Dossier notes, Putin's train does not look very different from ordinary Russian passenger trains, featuring the same gray-red stripes. But several cars of the train are armored and equipped with access to a secure government line.
Furthermore, as Proekt found out, the train moves around a secret network of railroads and stations, with lines connecting Putin’s residences.
One of the lines leads to Putin's Valday residence. A Proekt journalist discovered the restricted station in the Valday National Park in the fall of 2022. The station also features a helipad. According to satellite images, the railroad was built in 2019.
Three locals claim that no one even uses it but the president, and the guard chased the reporter away when he wanted to approach the fence of the station. A former train driver who worked on the route between Moscow and St. Petersburg told the publication that he saw Putin's special train. He said that previously the road near Valday was in very poor condition, but when they were preparing a new road to the residence, they repaired some of the old tracks for Putin's train to use. The sections that were not intended for the armored train were not repaired.
Further satellite data analysis revealed a new station in Novo-Ogarevo, built in 2015 some 400 meters away from the president's residence in the Moscow Region. To make room for the station, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev withdrew land from private ownership and transferred it to the Federal Guard Service. Around the station, there are surveillance cameras every ten meters. Another station for the armored train was built in Sochi, to get the president to his Sochi residence, Bocharov Ruchei. The secret platform and railway line in Sochi appeared in 2017, separated by a high fence from the tracks used by suburban trains.