Former Russian federal security officer Vitaly Brizaty dramatically fled Russia and denounced Putin.
He's one of the extremely rare FSO officers to do so — and says he's still being pursued for it.
Now living in Ecuador, he's received messages saying he has "big problems at the Kremlin."
A former member of President Vladimir Putin's Federal Protective Service said that he has been pursued since he fled Russia and denounced the invasion of Ukraine.
Vitaly Brizhaty told Insider that he fled to Ecuador after months of trying to leave his job guarding one of the palaces used by Putin, an attempt that he says saw him interrogated and threatened with prison.
Now, after his escape, he is speaking out. He is one of the vanishingly rare former FSO officers to do so.
Brizhaty showed Insider warning messages he has received since arriving in Ecuador, which say that those working for the Kremlin are trying to find him and force him back to Russia.
One such message said Brizhaty has "big problems at the Kremlin."
They appear to be the brutal consequences of his decision to publicly reject Putin's politics and the war in Ukraine.
Brizhaty spoke to Insider via a translator about how he came to reject Russian propaganda and support Ukraine, even while he worked to protect Putin's life.
Guarding Putin in occupied Crimea
According to documents seen by Insider, Brizhaty became a FSO dog handler in September 2021, part of the estimated 50,000-strong Federal Protection Service that protects Putin and high-level Russian officials.
He said he was stationed at Olivye, a lavish state palace in Crimea that Putin has been using as his own since the Russian annexation of the Ukrainian peninsula in 2014.
Brizhaty spent months trying to get that job. Becoming an FSO officer, he says, meant going through health checks, family background checks, and even a lie detector test.
Initially, he said he had concerns about working in occupied Crimea, having earlier been "forced," in his description, into a police assignment there. But much of his family was there, and an FSO job would be the peak of his career, offering a comfortable 68,000 rubles ($700) a month.
But even as he managed sniffer dogs and scoped out the public spaces Putin would visit, Brizhaty had quietly been nurturing dissident views. He started listening to opposition politician Alexei Navalny, watching independent media, and found himself revolted by Russian state propaganda — and the lavish surroundings of the palace.
"When I started working for the FSO and I saw all the luxury, I realized that Navalny was telling the truth," he said.
The moment he truly turned against Russian authorities was February 24, 2022, when Putin launched his full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Brizhaty says he could no longer bring himself to serve him.
In a resignation letter submitted the same day, Brizhaty wrote: "I do not want to participate and be associated with Russia's attack on Ukraine in any way, even passively."
The letter was torn up and thrown in the trash, he said.
Getting out of 'Mordor'
After Brizhaty's attempt to resign in February 2022 was bluntly rejected, things took a darker turn.
"I started receiving threats," he said. He was told he could be imprisoned for years if he kept being open about his views, and was interrogated for hours on end about them.
A toxic working environment, surrounded by ultra-loyal career officers, didn't help. "You have to watch everything you are saying in front of them, because every word may be used against you," he said.
"I was under enormous psychological pressure," he added.
When he turned to a psychologist for help, she smiled and nodded as he poured out his woes. But afterward, he said it was clear she had passed everything he said on to his superiors.
Eventually, Brizhaty decided to keep his views to himself. But quietly, he was planning his escape.
He had no access to his passport, which was locked away as part of his employment. So he got a new one by pretending to the passport office that he had lost it.
He still had no permission to leave his job. But then, a lightbulb went off. A wide swathe of government jobs, he realized, have a notable condition: you cannot hold any foreign work permits.
Brizhaty's wife found a job in Ecuador, which also gave him the right to live and work there. From then, it was a matter of marching into his boss' office and claiming that he and his wife were having marital problems.
He was helpless, he said, to stop her from taking up the job. By default, he would end up with a fatal conflict of interest: his ability to live in Ecuador.
"All my managers had to sign this document saying they do not mind," he said. "And a couple of them sort of winked at me and said, 'Oh, well done, you found a clever way out of this.'"
Even in Ecuador, Brizhaty doesn't feel safe from the Kremlin. Still, he is embracing his new freedom to speak out — including about Putin's aggression in Ukraine.
"This so-called special military operation is a huge lie," he said, summarizing the supposed justifications that were fed to the Russian public. To him, it was clear that the invasion was simply "the desire of one person" — Putin, he said.
Russian people have been turned into "zombies" by Putin's propaganda, he said, adding he sees no future for Russian children.
He said he looks forward to the day his daughter can thank him for taking her out of "Mordor" — a common description of Russia among people with anti-government views.
In the meantime, he stands by his decision to speak out.
"Even if my words and what I've done would convince two or three people, that would already mean that I have done the right thing," he said.
Translations from Spanish by Thibault Spirlet.
Read the original article on Business Insider