The Life Of A Galley Slave
Vladimir Putin projects the image of an earthy action man who enjoys fishing trips and hikes in the hills but a new report suggests the Russian president is more sybarite than Spartan.Mr. Putin jets back and forth in 58 planes and helicopters, uses a £50,000 lavatory with gold fittings and wears wristwatches worth a total of £400,000, according to “The Life of a Galley Slave”, a dossier drawn up by Boris Nemtsov, a former deputy prime minister and opposition politician.
Mr. Putin relaxes at more than 20 lavish palaces and country retreats, and enjoys an existence that “can be compared with that of the monarchs of the Persian Gulf or the most outrageous oligarchs”, the report on his luxuries concluded.
The Russian leader, 59, has often played on his humble beginnings to popular effect. He once described how, as a child, he had to beat aside rats with a stick at the entrance to his parents’ communal apartment in St Petersburg.
Mr. Putin, a judo black belt and amateur ice hockey player, has also projected his job as a punishing challenge fraught with austerity.
On finishing his second term in 2008, he said: “I’m not ashamed before the citizens who voted for me. All these eight years I’ve been toiling like a galley slave, with every ounce of my strength. And I’m pleased with the results.”
The report, published online on Monday, suggests an altogether more cushioned reality.
Among the perks said to be available to the president are a sumptuous £600m Italianate palace on the Black Sea coast, an Ilyushin jet with gold-plated bathroom and a £26m yacht called Sirius with whirlpool baths, a cinema and an artificial waterfall.
According to his official income declaration Mr. Putin earned £70,000 last year, making his suggested watch collection alone worth almost six times his annual salary.
Mr. Nemtsov and co-author Leonid Martynyuk wrote: “In a country where 20 million people can barely make ends meet, the luxurious life of the president is a brazen and cynical challenge to society from a high-handed potentate.”
They added: “We must not put up with this. We believe that the way of life of those in power must become a topic for public discussion and that all expenditure from the budget and all their incomes must be published.”
Mr. Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, was unavailable for comment but he told the Kommersant newspaper he had not read the report. “The information about the president’s state residences and transport is absolutely open to all, there are no secrets here,” he said. “This is all state property and as the elected president Putin uses it according to the law. What’s more, he’s obliged to in many cases.”
Mr. Putin won disputed elections in March and assumed the presidency for a third term in May, although he was seen as de facto leader of the country during his predecessor Dmitry Medvedev’s one term in the Kremlin.
Since December a series of street protests against Mr. Putin’s rule have eroded his support in major cities. A poll published on Monday showed that 51 per cent of respondents blamed him for the country’s problems, the first time in his 12 years at the helm that more than half of those surveyed expressed that opinion.
However, the president preserves a core of support and the machinery of state has been active against his opponents. On Monday, state investigators raided a willow-weaving factory belonging to the parents of Alexei Navalny, an opposition activist who faces dubious embezzlement charges.
“They will probably confiscate some shocking criminal baskets or a rattan chair on which I sat as I contrived the theft,” Mr. Navalny remarked.
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