The police, though, never received the information, even if it would have been important for Bavarian officials to know about Tikhonova’s arrival – on the one hand to protect the guests from abroad, and on the other to protect German citizens. “Tikhonova could easily have become the target of an attack, without officials being able to evaluate the dimensions of such an attack,” says a security official, adding that it would also have been interesting from an intelligence perspective to examine additional trips. In Germany, though, says the official, there is no “established procedure” for observing the scions of foreign potentates.
Moscow, for its part, should have reported the trip of the Tikhonova retinue to the German authorities so that bodyguards could legally carry weapons. But no such report was ever made, not for any of her trips. Officials in Berlin say that it is thus extremely likely that repeated violations of German weapons laws were committed. Experts reject the possibility that the Russian bodyguards were unarmed while in Germany.
“Armed bodyguards from the Russian presidential protective services are traveling unnoticed through Bavaria and nobody cares,” complains Sebastian Fiedler, a domestic policy expert from Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s Social Democrats (SPD) and a member of German parliament, the Bundestag. The case, he says, is “a prime example” for the fact that “in the past decades, we haven’t developed a strategy for responding to Russian agents and their activities. We cannot continue like that.” A regime that launches a war of aggression in Europe, Fiedler says, must trigger “a significant boost to the operative abilities of security agencies.”
“A Visa Ban Is a Question of Our Security Interests”
Roderich Kiesewetter, a foreign policy expert for the conservative Christian Democrats (CDU) in the Bundestag, is demanding an end to the “liberal visa policies” for Russia. Tikhonova’s trips demonstrate, he says, that “a policy change is urgently needed.” Kiesewetter would like to see the Schengen border-free travel zone cease issuing tourist visas to Russians. In any case, he adds, the only Russians still traveling to the West are Putin sycophants or those who profit from his system. “As such, a visa ban isn’t just a moral question, but a question of our security interests.”
Tikhonova’s trips to Munich seem to have begun in 2015, as the flight data shows. The following year, Igor Zelensky – one of Russia’s most successful ballet dancers – became the director of the Bavarian State Ballet. It was at about this time that Tikhonova is thought to have separated from her husband, the oligarch scion Kirill Shamalov.
At the Bavarian State Ballet, it is no secret that Zelensky has powerful friends in Russia. Well before he became the target of criticism in spring 2022 for his refusal to distance himself from the invasion of Ukraine, he made a sanguine appearance in Crimea at Putin’s side. He was also appointed to the supervisory board of Russia’s National Cultural Heritage Foundation. His proximity to the regime was never particularly hidden. Nor was it a problem until the beginning of the war.
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