Russia Wins Gold for Yachts, Palaces and Penthouses

Posted August 13th, 2012 at 6:39 am (UTC+0)

Perfect political timing: Judo black belt President Vladimir Putin was in the stands Aug. 2 when Russia won one of its first golds of the 2012 Summer Olympics. Here he congratulates Russia’s Tagir Khaibulaev after he took the gold in 100 kg judo. Photo: Reuters/Darren Staples

With London’s Summer Olympics over, the spotlight and the torch now shift to Russia, host of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics.

Before the torch starts moving from London, Russians are grumbling about their showing in the summer Olympic tally.

Third place, with 24 gold and a total of 82 medals was not bad.

Russians naturally see themselves as heirs to the Soviet Olympic machine. But over the last two decades, Russia has slid gradually down the medals roster – from second at Atlanta (1996) and Sydney (2000), to third in Athens (2004) and at Beijing (2008).

For decades, the Soviet Union dominated the Summer Olympics. But today’s Russia has a population that is half that of the USSR and less than half that of the United States (46 gold and 104 total). Russia has about one-tenth the population of this year’s second place nation, China (38 gold and 87 total). Britain, with 29 gold and 65 total, had home court advantage.

If the 80 medals won by the 14 other countries that were once Soviet Republics are added to the total of Russia, athletes from the former Soviet Union would have won 60 percent more medals than the United States, and twice as many as China.

Part of Russians’ grumbling comes from the first week, when Russia was stalled in 10thplace, between Kazakhstan and North Korea. First impressions are everything, and many Russians are reluctant to climb down from their initial impressions, when 70 percent of respondents told pollsters that they were disappointed with their national teams. Also many Russians put more value on the gold, which drops their national showing to fourth place.

To cheer up the whiners, I offer three cases where Russians sweep the superlatives, nailing down Gold Medals in the World Olympics of Ostentatious Consumption.

Sailing out of a James Bond fanstasy, Roman Abramovich’s yacht Eclipse has two helicopter pads, 24 guest cabins, two swimming pools, three launch boats, and a mini-submarine. For security, Eclipse has intruder detection systems, a German-built missile defense system, and armor plating and bullet proof windows protecting the bridge and the master suite. Photo: Keld Gydum

1) Biggest Boat – Yes, size is everything. Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich wins the Gold for the world’s largest private yacht. When ordering his sleek 162.5 meter Eclipse in 2009, he made sure that it would be 1.5 meters longer than the 161 meter Dubai, built three years earlier by the same company, Blohm +Voss of Germany. Construction cost estimates range from $500 million to $1 billion. The yacht sails with a crew of 70. According to Wikipedia, Abramovich, who grew up in landlocked Moscow, owns four other yachts – the Susurro, the Titan, the Umbra and the Luna.

Gold Medal for Gilded Exile: Fugitive Moscow banker bought Park Place last summer for $217 million, making it the most expensive residence in Britain. Once the property of the father of King George III, Park Place underwent a $150 million fixup in 2008-2010.

2) Britain’s Most Expensive House – Andrei Borodin, a fugitive Moscow banker, wins the Gold for his $217 million purchase of Park Place, an 18th century country house. Sited above the Thames River, near Henley, the 80-hectare estate includes two golf courses. The house was purchased a year ago, but the name of the buyer was kept secret. Borodin may not have wanted publicity. At the same time as the purchase, July 2011, the largest bank bailout in Russian history, $14 billion, was being extended to his former bank, the Bank of Moscow. Borodin served as president of the bank since its founding in 1995 until April 2011, when he sold his share to VTB, a state-controlled bank. The public story is that in the next two months, VTB discovered a $14 billion hole in the bank’s finances.

Best College Student Housing: Dmitry Rybolovlev, ranked 100 on Forbes’ Billionaires List, help his daughter, Ekaterina, transition to the life of an American college student with the $88 million purchase of a pied a terre in 15 Central Park West. Photo: Peter Bond

3) New York’s Most Expensive Apartment – Here, Ekaterina Rybolovleva, a 22-year-old college student, picks up another Gold for Russia! In February, she paid $88 million for a 10-room, 627 square meter Manhattan penthouse overlooking Central Park. Rybolovleva is the daughter of Dmitry Rybolovlev, an entrepreneur who won control in the 1990s of Uralkali, a state-owned Russian company that is the world’s largest producer of potassium for fertilizer.

Russia’s Golden Man? President Vladimir Putin speaks to reporters during his Aug. 2 visit to Britain to meet with Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron and to cheer on Russian athletes at the London Summer Olympics. Photo: AP

4) Some say Russia is also a contender a Olympic Gold in the field of Political Fortune. For starters, go to the Wikipedia site and type in List of Heads of State and Government by Net Worth. You will see, at the top of the page, a photo of You-Know-Who. But, mysteriously, his name is missing from the text and the list. Officially, President Vladimir Putin’s declared wealth is $150,000 in bank accounts and a 77-square meter apartment in St. Petersburg, his home town.
But some European newspapers, alleging secret ownership of Russian energy companies, have called Russia’s president “the richest man in Europe.” In February 2008, at the Kremlin’s annual, nationally televised press conference, Mr. Putin was asked about these newspaper stories. The Presidential response: “With regard to the various rumors about financial conditions, I looked at some of the reports on this subject. This is just talk, there is nothing to discuss, just nonsense. They have picked this from their noses and have smeared this across their pieces of paper.”

James Brooke
James Brooke is the Russia/CIS bureau chief for Voice of America. A lifelong journalist, he covered West Africa, Brazil, the American Rocky Mountain States, Canada, and Japan/Korea for The New York Times. A resident of Moscow since 2006, he was first Bloomberg bureau chief for the region. In 2010, he joined VOA. In addition to writing Russia Watch, his weekly blog, he also does video, radio and web reports from Russia and the former USSR.

5 responses to “Russia Wins Gold for Yachts, Palaces and Penthouses”

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  2. Gennady says:

    James made an excellent list of nominations for Gold Medals in the World Olympics of Ostentatious Consumption. The list maybe continued.

    5) Gold Medal for wrist wear and watches. Mr. Putin in total has been photographed wearing around £160,000 of wrist wear. A remarkable feat for a man who earns, before tax, £80,000.

    6) He also is a rightful winner of Gold Medal for political “achievements” any president would have wished for in 12 years of undisputed and unrivaled power:
    -number of Russians who made the Forbes’ list of the world’s billionaires (none in 2000 to 101 in 2011)
    – Moscow has become the billionaire capital of the world. It is perfectly contrasted with the average monthly salary in Russia, only 21,000 roubles ($670) in 2011 year, the average monthly wage would buy about 200 loaves of bread in the Azbuka Vkusa store, and 2,000 loaves at one of the outdoor food markets around Moscow.
    – among countries selling-off vast natural resources at unprecedented rate the poverty rate in Russia reached 13.1% (18.6 mln people) according the World Bank. Gini coefficient, a measure of income disparities, has become much worse in Russia than the OECD average.
    – poor performance of his political party that has monopolised all executive posts in Russia in the Dec. 4 election when two-thirds majority was cut to a slim majority after winning just under 50 percent of the votes cast. It was a remarkable “victory” for the ruling party with “election” in Russia under undeclared state of emergency, Rights and Freedoms of Man and Citizen stipulated in articles 17.1, 22.1, 27, 29.1, 29.5, 31, 56.1 of Russian Constitution, basic human rights in Russia suspended and any serious political competition excluded.
    – antagonism between countryside of Russia and two capital cities has reached its climax with the average pay in three-quarters of more than 80 regions below the national level.
    – dramatic drop in his personal rating of approval among Moscow’ and Saint-Petersburg’ population.
    – the worst achievement in public education among G8-G20 countries for the largest country in the world that once was a pioneer in outer space exploration. . In 2009 in PISA tests Russia was 38-th in Maths, 39-th in Sciences and 42-th in Reading .

  3. Wilson says:

    Putin is without a doubt the most corrupt poitician on the planet. And this blatant flaunting of wealth will rile the masses into revolution. Russians whom are living in poverty wont stand for this. Putin needs to tread very carefully indeed. Isnt it odd how many of Russias billionaires have applied for dual citizenship??? Insurance policy maybe??
    The ground is already swelling from discontent, poverty and disparity!!

  4. John Fisher says:

    Since my wife is Russian, I can not speak against Mr. Putin; however, I do know for certain that there is economic disparity amongst the people in Russia. In my wife’s home town, the average monthy income is only about 6,000 rubles (about $240.00 US); however, if you go into one of the supermarkets in her hometown, you will soon discover that prices equal or exceed those in America on most if not all products. When my wife is in Russia, she goes to her sister’s house in the village almost every weekend, and gets vegetables from her sisters garden, and musrooms and berries she picks in the forest. This is the only way these people can survive on the incomes they are earning.

  5. Carlos .. says:

    President Obama’s cowardly abeyance to dictators in the Kremlin is to blame for this situation .. ditto for Damascus .. his abandonment of American principle’s which he espouses is disgraceful and despicable ..



James Brooke is VOA Moscow bureau chief, covering Russia and the former USSR. With The New York Times, he worked as a foreign correspondent in Africa, Latin America, Canada and Japan/Koreas. He studied Russian in college during the Brezhnev years, first visited Moscow as a reporter during the final months of Gorbachev, and then came back for reporting forays during the Yeltsin and early Putin years. In 2006, he moved to Moscow to report for Bloomberg. He joined VOA in Moscow in 2010. Follow Jim on Twitter @VOA_Moscow.



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