Katerina Tikhonova and Igor Zelensky (archive images)

Katerina Tikhonova and Igor Zelensky (archive images)

Lina Moreno / DER SPIEGEL

Pleasure Trips from Moscow How Putin's Daughter Traveled Unnoticed to Germany

Over the course of several years, Katerina Tikhonova made numerous trips to Bavaria together with an entourage of bodyguards. DER SPIEGEL reporting has revealed that the German authorities knew nothing of the excursions.

A "superior double room" in one of Munich's most exclusive hotels was reserved for the woman from Russia. The Mandarin Oriental boasts a five-star rating along with a swanky rooftop bar, and promises guest "timeless, sophisticated charm" combined with "the highest levels of personalized service." It is the kind of ambience in which even the daughter of the most powerful man in Russia can feel right at home.

Katerina Tikhonova, whose father is Russian President Vladimir Putin, apparently stayed in the Mandarin Oriental on the night of Dec. 22, 2016, a Thursday. That information comes from booking records obtained by DER SPIEGEL and the Russian investigative portal IStories. In combination with passenger data, passport copies and internal emails from the Russian security apparatus, these documents indicate that Tikhonova has traveled to Germany more than 20 times in recent years – unnoticed by German officials. And she has invariably been accompanied by bodyguards – likely armed – from the Federal Guard Service (FSO), which is in charge of keeping the Russian president and other senior officials safe.

The frequent travels of Putin's daughter and her entourage raises significant diplomatic and security questions. Contrary to common international practice, the Russians didn't consider it necessary to inform the German government of the peregrinations of Tikhonova and her bodyguards. That's not just a courtesy violation, it also demonstrates just how little consideration the Kremlin has for Germany's security and oversight interests.

It is also alarming that German intelligence services were unaware of virtually all of the trips taken to Germany by Putin's daughter and her retinue. "We would really like to have known about them," says a German official, who holds a senior post. John Sipher, former head of Russian operations for the CIA, isn't particularly surprised. "All intelligence services work at the behest of their political leaders," he says. "The policy of the (German) government as it relates to Russia has been: 'No waves.' No one in power seemingly wanted to find out things about Russia because it might cause an unwanted confrontation. So, why should anyone scrutinize Putin's daughter?"

The myopia of German intelligence is consistent with the larger picture: For many years, hardly anybody in Germany showed much interest in the activities of influential Russians. The real estate they bought and the business deals they engaged in were seen as their own private business. Now, the consequences of that indifference are becoming clear. It is extremely difficult to enforce sanctions on Putin's allies and patrons since officials don't have a clear understanding of their networks.

In any case, Katerina Tikhonova, 35, and her entourage traveled to a favorite destination for wealthy Russians looking for Bavarian hospitality. They apparently booked rooms in the Munich city center and on Tegernsee lake, in the foothills of the Alps south of Munich.

There is plenty to indicate that Tikhonova and her child, along with her bodyguards, traveled to the Bavarian Alps in December 2019. Records show that she arrived in Munich on Aeroflot Flight SU2594, while her daughter, two years old at the time, was brought to the city three days prior on a private jet from Air Hamburg. A bodyguard from FSO reserved a room for himself on Tegernsee lake.

It wasn't a long trip. Tikhonova returned to Moscow after a week. A different bodyguard apparently flew to Bavaria from Russia to escort her back home. But the back-and-forth flights continued.