As if 2022 couldn’t get any worse, it looks like Russia is planning a full-scale invasion of Ukraine, in what Bloomberg has aptly titled “an unwelcome Cold War reboot”.
Hundreds of thousands of Russian troops have amassed on the borders of the former Soviet Union republic, and rhetoric from Russia about American and NATO aggression has become increasingly strident in recent months. The US, Australia and other countries have started to evacuate consular staff, and things look incredibly tense.
Of course, there are many commentators on both sides of the old Cold War battle lines who suggest that this is all just brinkmanship and sabre-rattling. But if Vladimir Putin’s latest, sneaky nautical move is anything to go by, there could be dire consequences for Ukraine and the West.
The Russian president’s personal superyacht Graceful has made a hasty departure in suspicious circumstances from a shipyard in northern Germany where it was undergoing maintenance and upgrades, German newspaper Bild reports. According to the ship-tracking website Marine Traffic, the AU$140 million vessel set sail from the Blohm and Voss shipyard in Hamburg last Monday and had arrived in Kaliningrad (a Russian exclave sandwiched between EU/NATO member states Lithuania and Poland) two days later.
This is despite the fact that Graceful was in the midst of some seriously significant renovations, including the addition of two new balconies plus an extension to the stern. As the image above shows, Graceful left Hamburg before these renovations could be finished. What gives?
The first question, obviously, is how on earth is Putin able to afford a $140 million superyacht? It’s probably not a surprise to hear that while Putin’s official annual salary hovers around the AU$150,000 mark, the notoriously secretive autocrat (allegedly) controls shares in dozens of Russian state-owned companies and has millions squirrelled away in tax havens like Switzerland and Liechtenstein.
Hell, all one has to do is look at what’s on his wrist – the Russian leader has an extremely luxurious watch collection, filled with Breguets and Patek Philippes – to know that Putin’s worth a lot more than he is on paper. But Putin’s wealth isn’t really the hot story here. The big question is this: why has he so hastily moved his superyacht out of Germany, despite the yacht being halfway through significant renovations?
Well, Bild’s argument is that Putin has moved his yacht in anticipation of being slapped with hefty sanctions. If Russia does make a move on Ukraine, you can bet that Germany – as well as other countries like the UK, who have already threatened sanctions against Russia – would make it impossible to recover such a conspicuous asset.
That’s why this story is so scary. Has Putin moved Graceful because he’s about to pull the trigger on invading Ukraine, and wants to make sure he can get ahead of any sanctions? Is this a huge hint that s***’s about to hit the fan? We really hope that’s not the case.