FOCUS on Strongmen: Vladimir Putin of Russia
The Russian oligarch, Vladimir Putin, is known for assassinating journalists and money laundering in offshore bank accounts. Putin accomplishes all of this while maintaining his status as arguably one of the most powerful men in the world.
Putin describes himself as growing up in a mundane Russian working-class family. According to his biographical webpage he states, “I come from an ordinary family, and this is how I lived for a long time, nearly my whole life. I lived as an average, normal person and I have always maintained that connection.” Since his time as a KGB officer in East Germany, Putin has consistently gained power and money, pushing him out of the realm of ordinary.
In March of 2018, Putin submitted an official income declaration stating he owns an 800-square foot apartment in St. Petersburg and has made 38.5 rubles ($676,000) in the last six years from his presidential salary, says the New York Times.
Bill Browder, a Russian investor and critic of Putin, testified to the U.S. Senate that Putin has over $200 billion in wealth. The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project have concluded that Putin and the people closest to him shield his true wealth from the public.
Tom Tugendhat, UK foreign affairs committee chair, said to CNN, “Three hundred billion dollars or more has been stolen from the Russian people by [Putin]. We should expose him for what he is.”
This alleged wealth can be seen through Putin’s alleged ownership of 43 aircraft, which alone are estimated to cost over $1 billion, as well as 15 helicopters and 4 yachts, reports the New York Times. He also vacations in the Constantine Palace in Finland, which took tens of millions of dollars to renovate. According to the New York Times this occurs, “in a country where many people hardly make ends meet.”
Putin’s actions have led to tensions for the Russian state in the international community. After a former Russian spy and his daughter were assassinated on UK soil in March, Theresa May, the UK Prime Minister, called for the expulsion of all 23 Russian Diplomats within the country.
As the largest expulsion of Russian Diplomats in 30 years, the goal of this was to weaken Russian defense capabilities. May states, according to the New York Times, that it was “highly likely” that Moscow is responsible for the attack.
Putin has also acted against Russia’s formerly richest man, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who has resided in Russia’s penal system for 6 years, reports the New York Times. The accusation that landed him in this position is connected to his alleged involvement in an “organized criminal group” which stole 350 tons of oil. He still maintains that he does not understand the case brought against him.
Charges like these are not uncommon in Russian society. Celebrity cases, like Khodorkovsky’s, have involved journalists, politicians, human rights advocates, anyone that threatens the Putin regime.
The international community, especially western states, finds Putin’s actions to gain power intolerable. Because of this, Putin takes decisive measures against countries like the US, which has occurred since the beginning of the Putin era. For example, BBC states, in 2007 Putin responded to US anti-missile plans by threatening to target missiles at the European Union.
Yet, Putin’s power gains stretch beyond his political assassinations to his overt use of military force for political and territorial gains. Russia annexed Crimea in 2014 in order to access their two oil fields. As Russia does not have a warm water port, Crimea is also valuable as it gives the Russian military access to the black sea, which projects the regime’s power and provides access to the Eastern Mediterranean region.
Military intervention is not exclusive to Crimea, as Russia intervened in Syria in 2015. According to the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the Russian military was able to utilize the Black Sea Fleet here through offensive and defensive measures in Syria, proving use of the Crimean resources.
With Putin’s unknown wealth and divisive strategies to gain power internationally, he acts as a political and social strongman. In reference to his clout as the leader of Russia he has said, “I am the wealthiest man, not just in Europe, but in the whole world. I collect emotions,” reports Business Insider.