I can’t be bothered deconstructing it as I did with the demographic section of Boris Nemtsov’s last (seventh) white paper. But there are some things to be said about its claims as regards Putin’s lifestyle and its coverage in the Western media.
(1) The definitions of what constitutes one of Putin’s “residences” is very loose. For instance, take this from Fred Weir at the CSM:
Nine of Putin’s state domiciles, including the lavish Konstaninov palace in St. Petersburg, have been constructed recently on his orders
The problem is that I have been to Konstantinovo Palace in 2003… as part of a tourist group. $250 million was indeed spent on it, but this was a Tsarist era palace that had been damaged in WW2 and otherwise fallen into neglect during the Soviet years. What happened is that it was repaired and reconstructed in the early 2000′s. It was used for official functions and conferences – it was the centerpiece of the G8 Summit in Saint-Petersburg in 2006 – but when it isn’t, you could book an excursion for a small fee. (The guide made a joke about how the bridges on the moat surrounding the palace could be drawn up to imprison visiting VIP’s who drew Putin’s displeasure).
Here is a picture of me (awfully dressed) inside a room, outfitted to look like a ship’s cabin, where Putin and Bush discussed stuff on several occasions.
So yes, Putin does have “access” to 20 odd residences. It’s not however like they are his personally and nobody else can go there. Speaking of Konstantinovo (again, as I was actually there) it has many tourists, and an art museum is also being built there.
(2) An additional point is that this is all paid out of the Budget for Presidential Affairs, which is set at about $2.5bn per year. Is that excessive? It is from this account that all the suits, watches, yachts, residence construction and maintenance, etc, etc are funded. Is it excessive compared to other, similarly-sized countries? I do not know. As Mark Chapman pointed out, it’s not as if some other leaders of pretty respectable European countries don’t have expensive tastes in watches.
What about that sawed-off elf-eared president of France, Nicolas Sarkozy? Sticking with the swanky-watch theme, Sarkozy has adazzling collection, ranging from his el cheapo $5, 245.00 Breitling Navtimer through the lovely $32,500.00 Girard-Perregaux that even-lovelier wife Carla Bruni gave him for his 55th birthday (the model pictured in his collection is not the same as the full-calendar automatic he was given), all the way up to his $118,199.99 Breguet Classique Tourbillon. Sweet, Mr. President – you have impeccable taste, both in women and in watches.
This is not to say that this is a good thing. I don’t particularly care, but I can see why some more left leaning folks might have a problem with it. It’s pretty clear that in the general scheme of things the Russian Presidential Administration is definitely on the more profligate side of the spectrum. However, the key difference from the “playboy oligarchs” and “Persian Gulf sheikhs” with whom Nemtsov compares Putin with is that all these objects do not belong to him personally – as he himself begrudgingly admits:
The report does not dwell on the question of Mr. Putin’s personal wealth, but suggests that it may not be as enormous as many have suggested. The reason he “maniacally clings to power,” the report says, is the “atmosphere of wealth and luxury he has become accustomed to, and categorically does not want to part with.”
(3) As in additional note, it is noteworthy that all of Nemtsov’s arguments in “Life of a Galley Slave” were reprinted and discussed in the Russian media. At this point it need hardly be said but this would never happen in anything resembling a real dictatorship.
Addendum 8/30: Commentator apc27 wrote:
K.F., it is not all that difficult to go to the site of Presidential Affairs Department:http://www.udprf.ru/ and find that it employs 50000 people and looks after the residences and enables the activities of ALL branches of the government of the Russian Federation, including the judiciary and the legislature.
So essentially, these $2.5 billion are spent on maintenance and activities of the top representatives of all 3 branches of government. In that context the amount of money seems much more reasonable, is it not? Now, next time, would it not be better to spend 5 extra minutes on research, rather than look REALLY silly, spluttering with outrage over nothing?
50,000 top bureaucrats? 20 residences? A fleet of airplanes? Everything becomes pretty standard and reasonable now.