Russia’s richest galley slave

Why does Russian president Vladimir Putin need so many palaces?

Boris Nemtsov's report, The Life of a Galley Slave', makes fascinating reading. Nemtsov, of course, is one of Putin's leading opponents, so you wouldn't expect him to pull his punches. And he doesn't. Take the report's title. This refers to a remark that Putin made when he finished his second term as president of Russia in 2008: "All these eight years I've been toiling like a galley slave, with every ounce of my strength."

If he was a slave, he was a very rich one, and he's even richer now, to the point where his wealth "can be compared with that of the monarchs of the Persian Gulf or the most outrageous oligarchs". During his years in power he has overseen what The Guardian calls a "phenomenal" expansion in the awarding of presidential perks: he now has at his disposal 20 palaces and villas, a fleet of 58 aircraft, a flotilla of yachts worth some three billion roubles (£59.2m), a watch collection worth 22 million roubles and several top-class Mercedes.

One of the aeroplanes, an Ilyushin-96, features an $18m cabin fitted out by jewellers and is said to have a toilet that cost $75,000. As for his palaces and other properties: among them is a large estate on an island in Lake Valdai, serviced by a 1,000-strong staff and including a "presidential church", two restaurants, a cinema and a bowling alley. The leaders of the US and Germany get by with two official residences, and the president of Italy with three, says Nemtsov. How come Putin needs 20, nine of which have been built while in charge of Russia?

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