PLANK AUGUST 28, 2012
Today, Boris Nemtsov, a former deputy prime minister under Boris Yeltsin and veteran opposition leader under Vladimir Putin, and journalist Leonid Martynyuk did something that all journalists hate to do: report out the super-obvious but extremely succulent story.
For about as long as anyone can remember, on-again, off-again president Putin has been rumored to be one of the richest men not only in Russia, but in the world. In 2007, one British journalist estimated his fortune was some $40 billion, about $39,999,900,000 more than Putin makes officially. Since then, we’ve heard of extravagant watches—in curious displays of populism, he’s recently given a couple away, one to a blue-collar worker and one to a young boy—and of palaces built all over Russia, including one on the Black Sea which was said to have cost a Dr. Evil-esque $1 billion.
It was all there in more or less plain view. Nemtsov and Martynyuk simply collated it into a political pamphlet they called “The Life of a Galley Slave.” (That phrase comes from Putin’s own mouth. At a 2008 presser, he did the your-humble-servant line one better, and said that he was not ashamed to face his voters because “for these last eight years, I have toiled like a galley slave, giving it my all.”) The pamphlet is a work of open-source research, replete with pictures of watches and cars, villas and yachts, many of them culled from the internet. As a whole, it presents a staggering portrait of Putin’s personal decadence. A few highlights:
The presidential villas make quite an impression, mostly because there are twenty of them. Putin seems to have realized the dream of every wistful traveler without access to budget funds: he built a palace into every pretty vista, including one protected by UNESCO. To be fair, Putin only built nine palaces during his twelve-year reign. The others were simply—well, lavishly—renovated at taxpayer expense. One, in Yekaterinburg, features various trompe l’oeil frescoes of the old city and a phalanx of eight Faustig chandeliers, each of which costs $50,000. That renovation alone cost $42 million dollars, $5 million of which went to furniture bought not from a local company, but from one in Putin’s native St. Petersburg.
And, if you can get past the fact that it is now possible to spend $1 billion on a beach house (with elevators to the beach), it’s interesting to note, looking at these pictures, that Putin’s conservative politics extend to his taste in interiors: not much worth spending public funds on was invented, it seems, after the 18th century.
Once you get to the planes, of which Putin has a bare minimum—43—you realize that Putin’s taste is similar not so much to Louis XIV’s but to 50 Cent’s. One intrepid photographer caught on camera the famed $76,000 toilet (complete with golden flush) aboard the chief presidential plane—which the Russian press promptly dubbed Air Commode 1. That, of course, is chump change given the price of the plane, which includes the presidential prayer nook and gilt presidential Bible—an estimated $300 million. Another, just-in-case plane was said by its manufacturers at Airbus Corporate Jet Center to include the following “elements” in its décor: “natural leather, marble, as well as wool rugs woven by hand.”
Did I mention the 18 helicopters?
The 700-car garage is all black Mercedes, all the time. It also apparently includes a stretch limo known as a Pullman Guard, and known to cost a million and change.
Putin seems to have a fleet of four yachts. Some boast helipads and that one accessory that every world leader needs: a pool with a waterfall. One of the yachts, the Olympia, was, according to the report, a gift from Russian oligarchs, Tony Soprano style. Alleged to be among the donors is Chelsea football-owner Roman Abramovich.
What guilds the wrist of the man who already has everything? A $600,000 A. Lange & Sohne Tourbograph, for example. Or, if you're on a budget, a Patek Philippe Perpetual Calendar, for a mere $60,000, will do just fine. There are others, don’t worry. For a man who is never, ever on time, these watches have clearly been a good investment.
In the end, the smorgasbord of press clippings and the forensic photographs of Putin’s possessions may not have gotten us any closer to a complete picture of his wealth; much of this information is still tenuous or completely secret, and there are more than a few inaccuracies in the report. (They don’t mention, for instance, that some of the presidential residences are not full-time residences; some of them, like the constructivist Barvikha residence with its “shower of varying sensations” serves as an income-generating spa when the president is not in residence.) Still, it is an extremely effective visual aid for anyone who’s ever traveled through Russia and wondered how a country so rich could look so destitute.