Putin’s Palaces, Yachts, Cars and Watches: An Opposition Guide to Russia’s Rich and Famous

Posted September 4th, 2012 at 12:55 am (UTC+0)

“I have worked like a galley slave throughout these eight years, morning till night.” Vladimir Putin summing up his first two terms as president to Russian and foreign Press. Feb. 2008.

It’s a nice image for voters at election time.

No galley slaves below decks here. Teak and fine woods were used by French designer Jean Guy Vergès for the interior of the 54 meter yacht Sirius bought last year by Russia’s Presidential Administration. The Sirius is one of four yachts owned by the Administration, a fleet dominated by the 57 meter Olympia.

But below decks on the Sirius, a 54-meter yacht, Russia’s president is not chained to an oar. Instead, he can enjoy the designer interior, listening to a cascading waterfall, chill out in a spa pool, and enjoy a rare vintage from onboard wine cellar.

The Sirius is one of four yachts and part of an explosion of perks that now underpin President Putin’s extravagant lifestyle, according to a new opposition pamphlet, “Life of A Galley Slave.”

Even if you are part of the 97.5 percent of the world’s population that does not speak Russian, click this link, and go on a full color tour of the palaces, yachts, watches and automobiles of Russia’s 21st Century Czar. If you want to read the captions, use Google Translate.

According to “Galley Slave,” the palaces include 20 presidential residences – 10 more than when he came to power in 2000. The neo-classical styles of some stand as gold leaf echoes of the Czarist palaces that young Vladimir must have admired (coveted?) during his hard scrabble youth in Leningrad, now St. Petersburg.

The Constantine Palace, an 1807, Czarist-era structure, had suffered from decades of Soviet neglect and the abuse of German occupation during World War II. On becoming President, Vladimir Putin, a St. Petersburg native, restored the palace as a Presidential residence and conference center.

One, an alpine ski lodge in the Caucasus, nestles on a plateau just one mountain away from the site of the downhill ski races of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics.

As for timepieces, it appears that Russia’s president takes to heart the commercial appeal: Judge a man by his watch.

By studying hundreds of photos of Russia’s president, opposition researchers came up with a Putin collection of 11 luxury watches. The total worth of the collection is six times his annual declared income of $112,000.

For air travel, there is a fleet of 43 airplanes and 15 helicopters. The centerpiece is an Ilyushin presidential jet with a gold inlay interior created by artisans from Sergiyev Posad, a religious center.

An ikon, gold inlay and rare wood embellish the estimated $18 million interior of one of Russia’s 38 presidential jets, according to new opposition study of the lifestyle of Russia’s President.

The cars include a stretch Mercedes limousine with a 14-foot, gold trim interior.

By contrast, Russia’s President lists on his official statement of personal assets three vehicles, all antique Soviet cars, and a trailer hitch inherited from his father.

Dmitry Peskov, Mr. Putin’s long-serving press secretary, has dismissed the allegations of wealth, charging that “attempts at pseudo-revelations are associated with oppositionism here.” He said that all the palaces, cars and yachts belong to the Presidential Administration, the modern name for the Kremlin.

But many Russians fear their nation is stuck in the 18th century, where the richest man in a European country was, inevitably, the King.

Louis XIV was the French king who famously blurred the state with himself, saying: “L’etat, c’est moi” – or “The State, it is I.”

Few Russians think their country needs the kind of bicycle riding leader seen in neighboring Scandinavian democracies.

The draught beer may be proletarian, but the watch is a $25,000 A. Lange & Sohne 1815, confected from silver and white gold with a crocodile skin wrist band.

But a sizable portion of Russians think their president has gone way too far. They say he is surrounded by sycophants and favor seekers, men who shower baubles on the Czar, hoping to win lucrative business concessions.

“His lifestyle can be compared to that of a Persian Gulf monarch or a flamboyant oligarch,” write the authors of “Life of a Galley Slave,” Boris Nemtsov and Leonid Martynuk. Annual upkeep on the Sirius, they write is “the equivalent of the average annual pensions for 1,200 Russian retirees.”

Understandably, few Russian printers will touch the 32-page pamphlet.

After a limited print run of 5,000, the authors, both leaders of the Solidarity movement, have resorted to distribution by the internet. At last count, 2,778 people had clicked the Facebook “like” button on the pamphlet. That click of the mouse probably earned each Russian his or her very own intelligence service file.

From humble beginnings: graffiti on the passageway leading to the internal courtyard apartment where Vladimir Putin grew up in St. Petersburg in the 1960s. VOA Photo: James Brooke

Not only is the “Galley Slave” report racing around Russia’s internet, but it is racing around the world at a speed not seen since the Kremlin helped to make “Pussy Riot” a global brand. A quick Google check of the phrase “Putin galley slave” demolishes the Kremlin’s myth that only the Western press is skeptical of Mr. Putin.

A selection of newspapers that ran reports on Russia’s rich and famous leader: Indian Express, Dawn (Pakistan), Gulf Today (Arab Emirates), Malaysian Times, Chosun Ilbo (South Korea) and Shanghai Daily. And that is just a search of English language news media.

Yes, Louis XIV, the “Sun King,” was the longest reigning king in Europe’s history – 72 years.

No, there was no Facebook in the 17th century.

It will be interesting to see how long Russians keep doffing their caps for the passing Putin parade.

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.

10 responses to “Putin’s Palaces, Yachts, Cars and Watches: An Opposition Guide to Russia’s Rich and Famous”

  1. Victor says:

    VOA will go long way to demonize Putin. US will never forgive him that he has brought Russia back to independence after a terrible decade of slavery dictated by the US. Russian people will remember your “friendship” for years to come. You guys better focus on Bush and his “legacy.” You lost your credibility long time ago so no one believes you. Your actions around the world give us no reason to believe you. Go kiss dictators that you love.

    • Gennady says:

      To Victor:
      You have chosen the wrong tactic: instead of disproving any fact in the article you attack with empty words by distracting readers from the subject of discussion.
      For your distraction you’ve chosen the wrong place.
      This blog, as you might have noticed, is devoted to Russia and former soviet countries.
      Maybe somewhere on Radio Moscow there is a blog devoted to the USA where you may comment on any American president you like.
      The subject of present discussion in Russia Watch, as you could see, is the obsession with disproportional luxury in contrast to millions of old age pensioners in Russia living on 6000 rubles a month (about 170$).
      Please, try to be specific and to invalidate the well documented allegation which the world looks with contempt.
      Be so kind to present any shred of evidence that all is a lie as you are so loyal to your idol.

    • liberti says:

      AGITPROP lives! When everyone thought it was gone….. it still lurks in shadowy corners of the internet…. ready to pounce… growl… intimidate…

      • liberti says:

        Comment re: agitprop – Answering to the verbal ramblings of Victor (above) not the comments of Gennady.

  2. Gennady says:

    1. There are unscrupulous paid people and favor seekers who “ridicule” the damning undeniable facts of the outrageously lavish life style supported by the visual evidence from highly secretive society. All Russians who haven’t drunken their minds, who haven’t sold their souls, who haven’t lost their heads instead of their hats should thank all of those who have made it possible to view the depth of the humiliating chasm nowadays Russia is in between the splendor of few and object poverty of overwhelming majority in impoverished and ravaged country.
    2. How can anybody trust the man who has $700K collection of luxury watches in his OWN possession on $100K annual income? Where is the taxman who will inquire into the well documented case of highly probable tax evasion and concealed revenues? How blinded should people be to believe that such excesses are needed their President to perform his humble duties in devastated country?
    3. In order to preserve the achieved status quo the regime operates a number of “shields”.
    a) the omnipotent state machine turned to the advantage of few. Anybody who tries to speak their minds in public is arrested and excessively charged (as with Pussy Riot, Taisiya Osipova), switched off from the Internet (as with me) or simply fired. Dozens outspoken journalists are murdered and maimed for life without any progress in investigations. Few permitted opposition’s meetings are intimidated by heavy police presence and plain clothed men with video cameras, iron bars erected around confined spaces.
    b) the regime corrupted conscience of overwhelming majority of election executives all over the country in “double-standard” voting and the cover-up of the “victory”. A greater part of the executives with guilty souls are principals and head teachers in thousands schools who teach the future generation of Russia and serve as their role models. There mightn’t be more sinister picture. All rights and wrongs are turned upside down to safeguard the lavish life style. Courts of law serve the regime by pronouncing “verdicts” for those opposing few that embarrass even the prosecution.
    c) ostrich’s behavior (hiding head in sand) of regime’s spokesmen who instead of exposing “lies” about the despicably sumptuous life style bluntly dismiss the allegations of wealth under the pretext that the numerous visual proves came from abroad (as if it might be the reason for their rejection) , that they are “pseudo-revelations” as associated with the opposition.
    d) skillfully operating on naivety of people’s memory. The regime started off as Stalin’s (meaning steel) and has ended as rusted iron’s. But actually the regime betrayed Spartan lifestyle of Stalin who also severely punished all of those who enjoyed luxury and stole state property (poor sweeper women got long imprisonment for stolen brooms).
    e) using the cover-up from Patriarch Kirill who advertises Mr. Putin as a “miracle from God” rectifying the crooked path of history”, accusing Pussy Riot Girls for their objection of the Russian Orthodox Church to be directly involved in political process under pretext of mediaeval blasphemy.
    f) using the cover-up of the Presidential Administration for all the riches worth of $22 million when the are conveniently accessible at the touch of a button.
    g) complete unaccountability before the people because the legitimacy of the new State Duma as well as the President isn’t immaculate and is still questioned.

  3. […] Putin's Palaces, Yachts, Cars and Watches: An Opposition Guide to Russia's …Voice of America (blog)The cars include a stretch Mercedes limousine with a 14-foot, gold trim interior. By contrast, Russia's President lists on his official statement of personal assets three vehicles, all antique Soviet cars, and a trailer hitch inherited from his father … […]

  4. […] Putin's Palaces, Yachts, Cars and Watches: An Opposition Guide to Russia's … As for timepieces, it appears that Russia's president takes to heart the commercial appeal: Judge a man by his watch. By studying hundreds of photos of Russia's president, opposition researchers came up with a Putin collection of 11 luxury watches. The … Read more on Voice of America (blog) […]

  5. rjgoddard says:

    Just an example of how bad things can be. . .

  6. rjgoddard says:

    So disgusting, deserves no comment!



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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