Photos have emerged of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman wearing the expensive timepiece at his wedding.
Dmitry Peskov wore the watch during his wedding to Olympic ice dancer Tatiana Navka on Saturday in Sochi, on the Black Sea. It is allegedly worth $620,000, a huge sum in Russia, which is currently suffering an economic crisis, according to AFP.
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Opposition blogger highlights expensive watch
Peskov regularly briefs the press on Putin’s views, and appears to be handsomely rewarded for his work. During his wedding he could be seen to be wearing a flashy black watch emblazoned with a gold skull.
Alexei Navalny, opposition politician and corruption investigator, specified that the watch is a limited edition designed by Richard Mille. Navalny cited an email from the Swiss manufacturer in which they state that the watch is worth at least $620,000.
“The bridegroom’s watch cost more than your apartment,” reads the title of his investigation. Navalny later published pictures of Peskov sporting other expensive watches such as a Rolex and an Omega.
Corruption investigators in Russia have highlighted officials’ expensive taste in watches on multiple occasions. They point out that the declared salaries of the officials would not allow them to purchase such expensive items.
Watch passed off as a gift from celebrity wife
Peskov officially earns $145,000 per year, which means he would have to work for over 4 years to be able to buy the watch outright. He has played down speculation over the watch, claiming that his wife had given it to him as a present.
“Gifts from a wife to a husband or a husband to a wife can hardly have anything to do with anti-corruption activity,” he said, according to the RIA Novosti state news agency.
Navka later told the Komsomolskaya Pravda tabloid: “I can afford to give a good present.” She claims that the cost of the watch had been inflated. “Naturally, the price that everyone is discussing now, of course, does not correspond to reality,” she said.
A number of celebrity guests attended the wedding, including pop stars and sporting greats, but President Putin was conspicuous by his absence. Peskov later confirmed that Putin had been invited.
No sign of austerity measures for high-ranking officials
Photographs of the wedding reveal that the Kremlin’s inner circle has done little to reduce spending as a result of austerity measures which have been imposed on the country as a whole. The lavish ceremony was most certainly not an effort to prove that high-ranking officials are leading by example when it comes to cutting costs.
The wedding was hosted at the ultra high-end Rodina Hotel, and guests staying in three neighboring hotels were evicted and given alternative accommodation for the duration of the wedding party due to security concerns. It is still unclear whether Putin attended the wedding.
President Putin has ordered drastic cost-cutting measures across Russian ministries. 110,000 officials from the Interior Ministry were fired recently as Putin introduces austerity measures in an attempt to balance the books.
Russia is suffering an economic crisis due to Western sanctions and the low price of oil. Putin’s rule has been characterized by a general rise in living standards driven by huge profits from Russia’s energy exports, but the bonanza appears to be drying up.
Millions of ordinary Russians are slipping back into poverty due to the weakening of the ruble, which means their pay checks are worth less than before. The population as a whole may be suffering, but that does not appear to dissuade high-ranking officials from throwing lavish parties.
How much austerity can Russia take?
It may appear to be sensible for politicians to practice what they preach, and at least appear to embrace cost-cutting measures. However officials inside the Kremlin may feel secure in their positions due to the record highs in Putin’s approval rating.
Despite ongoing economic problems, a recent survey revealed that over 90% of the Russian population approved of Putin’s rule. His success in keeping the population on board may be related to his tight control of the media, and its constant lambasting of outside influences such as the United States and its allies.
By portraying Russia as a unique culture which must be defended against corrupting foreign influences, Putin appears to have successfully created a siege mentality. Opposition figures such as Navalny are doing their best to make sure that the public are aware of the possible abuses of power perpetrated by officials, but it appears that Putin and his administration have a deep reserve of goodwill among the general population.
Quite how much longer Russia will accept these incongruities depends on how much worse the economic crisis becomes, and how far their quality of life is affected.