MOSCOW — A Russian opposition leader, Boris Nemtsov, said Russian President Vladimir Putin has used the power he wields at the Kremlin to acquire for his personal use palaces, yachts, planes and other property that really belongs to the state.
Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov attends a news conference to present the report "The Life of a Galley Slave" in Moscow, August 28, 2012.
Nemtsov and co-author Leonid Martynyuk have released a study listing what they describe as the trappings of royalty that are available to Putin. They said he has a $75,000 toilet on board the presidential airplane, and a collection of expensive watches worth about $700,000.
The president lists his annual income at about $115,000, and he has said the task of leading Russia keeps him toiling "like a galley slave" from morning 'till night.
Nemtsov said he studied photographs and other information in producting their pamphlet, titled "The Life of a Galley Slave."
He said Putin has 43 airplanes, 15 helicopters, 20 villas, palaces and residences, four yachts - including the one presented to him by billionaire Roman Abramovich - and a collection of watches. All told, he estimated Putin's holdings are worth $22 million.
Nemtsov said, "If Vladimir Putin's press secretary believes that is normal in a poor country, where during the years of Putin's rule the number of schools went down by 20,000, and there are 700,000 fewer teachers, where the number of hospitals diminished by two times and clinics by 30 percent, then we have different notions of good and evil."
Masha Lipman, an analyst with the Carnegie Center in Moscow, said Nemtsov's report was based on information from foreign media, so it is hard to determine whether all the facts are true.
"Putin. if anything, is not careless. Putin is risk averse. Putin hedges his risks - political and otherwise - maybe better than most," said Lipman. "Even if it is true and he’s got assets that are unlawfully gained, I don’t think there’s a chance anyone would know about it or make it public. It’s hardly possible to trace ownership of these assets to Putin.
Opposition leader Nemtsov disagreed. He said the president has been mixing his property together with the state's for a long time, and "thinks it all belongs to him." Nemtsov said Putin "is swimming in luxury" and that is why he does not want to give up his control over the Kremlin.
A Russian named Sergei - who doesn't want to give his last name to a reporter - said he does not find it strange that Putin apparently has loads of money, yachts and jewelry.
"Sure, he's rich, Sergei said. "But he writes, he works. It’s not strange. All presidents are rich, and they are all millionaires."
Sergei added philosophically that "not everyone can be rich."
Analyst Masha Lipman said the fact that Putin could be obscenely rich really does not matter here in Russia.
"He is immune [from scrutiny], for all practical purposes. He is immune. The question is whether Putin will ignore this work or whether Nemtsov will have to pay for it," Lipman said. "Will Nemtsov get away with it? Even despite the political developments, the continuing anti-Putin sentiment, the essence of the regime remains the same: an omnipotent state and a powerless people."
Recent events can be seen as confirming Lipman's view: In the short time since Putin has taken on national leadership for an unprecedented third term as president, the Duma has increased the fines for taking part in unsanctioned protests against the Kremlin by a factor of 150. Three members of a feminist punk band were sentenced to two years in prison for staging an anti-Putin protest "prayer" on the altar of Moscow's main Russian Orthodox cathedral.
And, most recently, the wife of an opposition leader was sentenced to eight years in prison on drug charges - twice as long a penalty as the prosecution wanted. Tasiya Osipova and her husband are members of "The Other Russia," an opposition group. She claims police planted heroin in her home because she refused to testify against her husband.
Nemtsov's claims and complaints have been publicized outside Russia. Here in Moscow, the Kremlin has not yet responded to "The Life of a Galley Slave."