"Galley slave" Putin saviors yachts, palaces, critics say
By Steve Gutterman
MOSCOW (Reuters) - Vladimir Putin once compared ruling Russia to being a "galley slave", but four yachts that come with the job, as well as a string of palaces and a wealth of luxury perks help explain his refusal to quit the presidency, leading critics said on Tuesday.
Listing 58 planes and helicopters and 20 homes with opulent fittings worthy of the tsars, not to mention 11 watches which alone are worth several times Putin's annual salary, a report published under the ironic title "The Life of a Galley Slave" by opposition leader Boris Nemtsov denounced the lavish spending as an affront to millions of Russians living in dire poverty.
"One of the most serious reasons prompting V. Putin to hold on to power is the atmosphere of wealth and luxury to which he has become accustomed," wrote the authors. "In a country where more than 20 million people barely make ends meet, the luxurious life of the president is a blatant and cynical challenge to society. We absolutely cannot put up with this."
The Kremlin, which has long portrayed the 59-year-old president as a man of simple tastes with a liking for popular sports and active outdoor pastimes, did not immediately comment.
Intended to foster faint stirrings of opposition to Putin's recent re-election for a further six years, the report may struggle for attention. In a mark of the reluctance of Russians to challenge the Kremlin, Nemtsov said he had struggled to find a printer willing to produce the booklet. And after publication, it was largely ignored by the country's major media outlets.
Many ordinary Russians seemed indifferent to opponents who reveled in eye-catching details, such as the $75,000 toilet on a presidential jet. The authors also identified from photographs a total of 11 luxury timepieces on the wrist of the head of state and calculated their total value at some $700,000, while noting Putin had declared an annual income less than $115,000.
The president has long denied rumors that he has built up a vast personal fortune. The report did not address that but it illustrated in 32 pages how the former KGB spy has expanded the trappings of office since he rose to power in 2000.
"HISTORICAL PATTERN" Continued...