As Vladimir Putin continues his senseless onslaught on Ukraine, his opponents continue to chip away at the fortunes he, his family and his cronies have amassed.
Activists have grown restless waiting for the authorities to seize some of their assets and have taken the matter into their own hands in London and the south of France.
Pierre Afner, who has been documenting Russian riches in the French resort enclave of Biarritz for years, was arrested on Monday for breaking into the lavish seaside Alta Mira villa belonging to Putin’s daughter Katerina Tikhonova. There he found documents including copies of Russian passports belonging to Tikhonova and her wealthy ex-husband Kirill Shamalov, son of Nikolai Shamalov, one of Putin’s oldest and dearest friends—both sanctioned by the U.S. since 2018.
Afner also found a vast array of bizarre decorations, including fake songbirds in a gilded cage and rare art, in addition to books in Russian. He posted the treasure trove on his Facebook page just hours before police took him into custody Monday morning.
A small group of squatters also broke into a six-story London mansion belonging to the family of Oleg Deripaska on Monday and hung a Ukrainian flag and banners declaring, “The property has been liberated” and “Putin go fuck yourself.”
The property, which is said to be worth around $65 million, is located in Belgrave Square, one of the most luxurious addresses in Central London. Deripaska was sanctioned by the British government last week for ties to Putin.
The protesters who occupied the property said they were from a group called No Fixed Abode Anti-Fascists and said they wanted to open the opulent property up to people fleeing the war in Ukraine.
In France, Afner also said he intended to open the villa to Ukrainian refugees. Neither the Alta Mara, estimated to be valued at around $3.7 million, nor three other villas along the coast associated with Putin, including one belonging to his ex-wife, have been sequestered by French authorities.
Though Putin has never confirmed that Tikhonova is his offspring, the 34-year-old is the daughter of his ex-wife Lyudmila Aleksandrovna Ocheretnaya who he divorced in 2014 after nearly 30 years of marriage. It is an open secret that she is Putin’s child.
Tikhonova, who is the director of the National Intellectual Development Foundation, made several appearances at Russian-led business conferences over the last several years. She was also among the first to take the Russian vaccine against COVID-19.
Afner, who also posted a video from the terrace overlooking the sea where he planted a Ukrainian flag, was arrested with the Ukrainian activist Sergei “Troyan” Saveliev, who was also photographed inside the Putin-tied estate. Supporters called for their release, posting on social media, “The police should protect the people, not the oligarchs. Sergei, Pierre and other activists did not steal the villa, they did not take a single item, they tried to equip and prepare the Putin-Shamalov villa for receiving refugees,” activist Vladimir Osechkin posted on Facebook.
Biarritz is one of a number of European sea resorts, including the Italian island of Sardinia and the island nation of Malta, that have wilfully sought to attract wealthy Russian investors in recent years. A number of their super yachts and villas have been seized since the start of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
On Sunday, British housing minister Michael Gove said he supported the idea that Russian property seized as part of sanctions be used to house refugees. “I want to explore an option which would allow us to use the homes and properties of sanctioned individuals for as long as they are sanctioned for humanitarian and other purposes,” Gove told BBC Sunday. “There is quite a high legal bar to cross and we’re not talking about permanent confiscation but we are saying, ‘you’re sanctioned, you’re supporting Putin, this home is here, you have no right to use or profit from it’ and... if we can use it in order to help others let’s do that.”