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Guard at one of Putin’s palaces flees to Ecuador, criticizes war and Kremlin leader

Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks during his address to the nation at the Kremlin in Moscow on Feb. 21, 2022. (ALEXEY NIKOLSKY/Sputnik/AFP via Getty Images/TNS)
September 13, 2023

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

A guard at one of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s residences in occupied Crimea has fled to Ecuador, calling the Kremlin leader a war criminal.

Vitaly Brizhaty, who worked on the Ukrainian peninsula for the Federal Protection Service (FSO), the Kremlin’s bodyguard agency, told Dozhd TV in an interview that he opposed the war in Ukraine.

Brizhaty is the second member of the FSO to flee and publicly criticize the president over the invasion of Ukraine.

Brizhaty worked at Olivye, one of Putin’s two palaces in Crimea, which Russia annexed in 2014. RFE/RL’s Crimea.Realities revealed the massive palace in Olivye in a 2021 report.

In the interview, Brizhaty said that Putin didn’t trust his own guards. He said the Kremlin would announce Putin’s arrival at two different airports in Crimea but that he could very well end up arriving by sea.

“That’s how much this man fears for his life,” he said.

Brizhaty claimed that FSO personnel were banned from communicating with Ukrainian relatives, citizens of the United States and European Union, or any people who oppose the war, under threat of criminal prosecution.

He said he feared punishment because one of his friends, a former classmate with whom he has remained in contact, now resides in the United States and has come out against the war. Brizhaty claimed that if his friend liked a pro-Ukrainian post on Instagram, he could come under investigation.

“It’s just insane,” he said.

A few months after the start of the war, Brizhaty said he tried to quit the FSO but was told he would be sent to fight in Ukraine if he left the service.

In the meantime, his wife, a native of Crimea, applied for a residence permit in Ecuador as a qualified worker and received it. The permit extended to him as well.

As FSO and other Russian security-service personnel are not allowed to hold a foreign passport or residency permit, Brizhaty was dismissed and he immediately left with his wife for Ecuador.