In 1996, Vladimir Putin and a group of friends and acquaintances from St. Petersburg would gather in an idyllic lakeside setting—barely an hour and a half north of the city. The location, on the Karelian Isthmus between the Gulf of Finland and Lake Ladoga, was only an hour and 20 minute’s drive to the Finnish border, in an area that has variously been part of the Swedish Empire, the tsarist Russian empire, independent Finland, the Soviet Union, and now Russia. This was a wonderful place for Mr. Putin to reflect on the twists and turns of fate and Russia’s evolving borders over the centuries. It also put Mr. Putin far away from the Russian center, Moscow.
Putin had built a dacha, a weekend house, in this locale not long after he returned to St. Petersburg from his KGB service in Dresden, East Germany, but it had burned down in 1996. He had a new one built identical to the original and was joined by a group of seven friends who built dachas beside his. In the fall of 1996, the group formally registered their fraternity, calling it Ozero (Lake) and turning it into a gated community. Reportedly, the group members were so close that they often carpooled out from St. Petersburg to the dachas.