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Russia's Putin: 'Galley slave' or Persian Gulf monarch?

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Mikhail Klimentyev/RIA-Novosti/Presidential Press Service/AP

(Read caption) Russian President Vladimir Putin, center, is greeted by residents of Saransk, the provincial capital of Mordovia region, 400 miles southeast of Moscow, Aug. 24.

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Rumors of Russian President Vladimir Putin's supposed vast wealth have been flying around the Internet for years, but now opposition politician Boris Nemtsov has weighed, measured, and described it in print.

In a just-released pamphlet co-authored with Solidarity activist Leonid Martynyuk, Mr. Nemtsov claims that President Putin has at his disposal 20 lavish state villas and palaces, four yachts, a fleet of more than 40 aircraft, 15 helicopters, phalanxes of cars, a collection of luxury wristwatches worth about $700,000, and an alleged personal fortune that may amount to billions of dollars.

Though Putin's official salary is just over $100,000 per year, "with a lifestyle like that, it could be compared to that of a Persian Gulf monarch," say the authors of "Life of a Galley Slave" – the title is a riff on a famous Putin quote, in which he declared that he has "toiled like a galley slave, from morning to night" in his public life.

Most of the assets enumerated in the pamphlet are actually state possessions. Like Soviet commissars of the past, Putin has extensive personal access to a vast empire of property and perks that he does not literally own. Putin has repeatedly denied holding a private fortune.

Putin's press secretary, Dmitry Peskov, told the Moscow daily Kommersant that he had not read the report, but added it probably contains nothing controversial.     

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