MOSCOW — President Vladimir V. Putin is rumored to be among the world’s wealthiest men, with an oil-greased fortune worth tens of billions of dollars. He denies that, vehemently, but a report to be published Tuesday suggests that the dispute may be beside the point.
In the report, sarcastically titled The Life of a Galley Slave, after the president’s own description of his tenure in office, Russian opposition leaders describe what they call an extraordinary expansion of presidential perks during the 12 years since the start of Putin’s first term as president — palaces, a fleet of jets, and droves of luxury cars.
Among the 20 residences available to the Russian president are Constantine Palace, a Czarist-era estate on the Finnish Gulf restored at the cost of tens of millions of dollars, a ski lodge in the Caucasus mountains and a Gothic revival palace in the Moscow region. The president also has at his disposal 15 helicopters, four spacious yachts and 43 aircraft, including the main presidential jet, an Ilyushin whose interior is furnished with gold inlay by artisans from the city of Sergei Pasad, an Airbus and a Dassault Falcon. The 43 aircraft alone are worth an estimated $1 billion, the report says.
The report is cast in the genre of the fashion sleuthing that recently revealed designer clothing on the wife of the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un. The authors, Boris Nemtsov, a former deputy prime minister who has been jailed a number of times on various pretexts, and Leonid Martynyuk, a member of the Solidarity movement, present enlarged photographs of the Russian leader’s wrist during meetings and public appearances, revealing a variety of expensive watches, 11 in all, worth $687,000 at retail — about six times Putin’s annual salary.
“His lifestyle,” the authors conclude, “can be compared to that of a Persian Gulf monarch or a flamboyant oligarch.”
In fairness, Putin’s delight in the watches has not been entirely selfish: Twice in moments caught on video, he has removed a wristwatch and given it to a bystander. The recipients, a boy and a laborer, received Blancpain watches that Nemtsov estimated to cost more than $9,000 apiece.
Putin has never apologized for, at the very least, enjoying the trappings of office. “I’m not ashamed before the citizens who voted for me twice,” Putin said in 2008, the Russian Information Agency reported. “All these eight years I toiled like a galley slave, from morning until evening.”