MOSCOW (Reuters) – An online video made by jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny alleging that Vladimir Putin is the ultimate owner of an opulent palace, something the president denies, has now been viewed more than 100 million times, YouTube data showed on Friday.
Navalny, who is serving a 30-day jail stint for parole violations he says are trumped up, released the video last week in an effort to encourage people to take to the streets to demand his freedom. Tens of thousands did so last weekend.
Navalny’s allies are continuing to promote the video to try and mobilise people to protest, this time on Sunday. Authorities say such protests are illegal under Russian law as they require pre-authorisation.
Putin, who has dominated Russian politics for more than two decades and has avoided even uttering Navalny’s name in public, has said the palace, in southern Russia, does not belong to him or his family.
Navalny’s video says the property, built in the Italian palazzo style, has its own underground ice rink, casino, swimming pool, theatre and something called an aqua-disco.
The latter has even inspired a pop music track and video entitled “Akvadiskoteka” that has since gained over more than three million YouTube views.
On Friday, a pro-Kremlin outlet on the Telegram messenger published footage of the property showing construction work under way at the site and in its interior.
Hours later, state television cited a builder at the site who said the property was being built as a hotel.
In his video, Navalny had noted building work at the site and said the property had been ready years ago but that flaws in its design had forced builders to start again from scratch.
“Everything was ready a long time ago but then a catastrophe known as mold and sloppiness struck,” he said. “So they decided to redo everything. Absolutely everything.”
Navalny rose to prominence in Russia during anti-Kremlin protests in 2011-12 and has carved out a large online following, particularly among younger Russians in big cities, by airing allegations about official graft.
He was arrested this month after flying back to Moscow from Germany where he had been recovering from a nerve agent poisoning last August.
Navalny has accused Putin of ordering his poisoning. Putin has denied the authorities tried to poison him and said Russian agents would have finished the job if they had wanted him dead.
(Reporting by Tom Balmforth and Vladimir Soldatkin; Additional reporting by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber; Editing by Andrew Osborn and Gareth Jones)