According to Forbes, the richest man on the planet is currently Bill Gates – with an impressive net worth of about $80 billion. However, his place at the top of the list would be compromised if we put Russia’s Vladimir Putin under the magnifying glass.
Before we take a closer look at Vladimir Putin’s financial situation, let’s first look at Russia’s leader himself.
In 2013 Forbes ranked Vladimir Putin first on the world’s “most powerful” people list; and there are not too many that would disagree with Forbes’ judgement on this one. After all, between being Prime Minister and President a few times over, Putin effectively ran the country for 15 years. So, what exactly puts the Russian president ahead of US’ own Barack Obama (who placed second)?
Well, let’s take a look at a few recent highlights as per Forbes editor Caroline Howard.
For starters, Putin annexed Crimea – not a small feat for anyone to accomplish. Next, there is the proxy war in Ukraine, that Putin started as well. Not to mention the $70 billion gas pipeline deal with China, and the successful hosting of the winter Olympics that is also accredited to Russia’s leader. It’s been a great couple of years that have helped Putin rank where he does, but lets dig even further – to his roots and upbringing.
Even before he finished school, Vladimir Putin wanted to work in intelligence. He has done a lot of research and even went to a public office of the KGB to find out how he can realize his goal. There, he was told that he would either have to serve in the army or obtain a college degree prior to joining the KGB. Putin took this to heart and began studying, eventually being admitted to the legal department at Leningrad State University.
Only about 1 in 40 high school graduates were admitted into this program, which goes to show Putin’s work ethic and competitive edge. After graduation, Putin finally achieved his goal and joined the KGB in 1975. After 16 years of service, Putin resigned (after multiple unsuccessful attempts).
Since his youth, Putin was able to set and achieve impressive goals. This, amongst many other factors set him apart from his competition. When Vladimir Putin wants something, he becomes unstoppable – arguably a great feature in a nation’s leader.
Now that we know a little bit more about the Russian president, let’s take a closer look at his bank account. Running a country is an undoubtedly difficult and demanding task, so you’d think that the President of the world’s largest (by land mass) country makes a substantial amount of money.
Well, you’d be surprised.
Officially, the Russian president makes somewhere in the neighborhood of 3.6 million rubles each year – or about $56,000. It’s actually impressive that the most powerful President in the world makes less than $5000 a month. In fact, this amount is so low, that it raises a series of questions regarding the lifestyle of the Russian president.
Although, Vladimir Putin claims that his family’s net worth is just shy of $500,000, it’s obvious that this figure is a ridiculous understatement. According to foreign investor (and former Putin supporter) Bill Browder – Putin is worth more than Bill Gates ($80 billion), Warren Buffett ($58 billion) and GOP political campaign financier Sheldon Adelson ($38 billion) combined.
Browder claims that Putin is the richest man in the world with a net worth of $200 billion in stolen wealth.
To quote Browder directly; “After 14 years in power of Russia, and the amount of money that the country has made, and the amount of money that hasn’t been spent on schools and roads and hospitals and so on, all that money is in property, Swiss bank accounts, shares, hedge funds, managed for Putin and his cronies.”
Quite a claim to make against a man like Putin, but Browder isn’t alone in his suspicions. Many Russian insiders believe that Putin has used his power to build large (and hidden) ownership stakes in several multi-billion dollar commodity firms. True or not, there is nothing anyone can do about the fact that Putin will remain in power. Browder sheds some light on the situation, “The power is very simple in Russia – whoever has the power to arrest people is the person in power. And so what Putin does is he has a bunch of guys around him who have the power to arrest people. And so it doesn’t matter how rich you are, if you can be arrested, put in jail and have your money taken away, the guy who can do that to you is the most powerful person in Russia.“
Crazy isn’t it? If any of the above is true (and it very well might be) it’s more than safe to assume that Putin will be fine even if the Russian economy continues to collapse under economic sanctions, and the falling price of oil. Interestingly enough, if Browder’s estimate is correct, Putin would place among the 10 richest human beings that have ever lived (adjusting for inflation).
Former deputy prime minister turned Putin critic – Boris Nemtsov, comments, “One of the most serious reasons that forces Putin to hold on to power is the atmosphere of wealth and luxury to which he has become accustomed and which he does not want to give up.”
Just like his alleged billions, his private life is mostly speculated.
What is known about Putin’s private life, however, is the fact that there is no shortage of luxury when it comes to “play time”. Besides quality watches worth tens, or even hundreds of thousands of dollars, the President is privy to a number of other perks like palaces and villas, yachts, and at least one flying toilet worth $75,000.
According to a number of Putin’s harshest critics, the President has overseen a remarkable expansion of the awarding of Presidential perks. Apparently, Putin has immediate access to 20 palaces and villas, a whole fleet of aircraft (58 planes to be precise), a small collection of yachts – worth a modest $70 million, a huge collection of fine watches and several top class Mercedes.
An eye opening report by the critics – titled The Life of a Galley Slave, challenges the legitimacy of the nation’s leader. “In a country where more than 20 million people can hardly make ends meet, the luxurious life of the president is a blatant and cynical challenge to society by a limitless ruler,” the authors write.
Putin has given his best efforts to maintain the facade of being an average Russian citizen. His efforts can be seen in the regular photo shoots the President stages with factory workers, as well as his televised appearance on a drab beige sofa in one of the two modest flats he officially owns.
These public displays of his “average life” aren’t fooling anyone, though. The Life of a Galley Slave opens the curtain to the extravagant reality that is Vladimir Putin’s life. Amongst many other extravagances, the report outlines one of Putin’s luxury yachts – the Olympia. This boat is also dubbed as “the real diamond in the Kremlin flotilla” and it’s fitted in rich mahogany, includes a marble bathroom, jacuzzi and runs a ridiculous $50 million in yearly maintenance.
Although the Russian President gets to lead a luxurious life, all of the perks outlined above are state property. Through legitimate trappings, Putin – as the country’s elected President is able to legally use all of them while he remains in a position of power.
Quite brilliant, really.