Vladamir Putin has been in the headlines for all the wrong reasons. Since he ordered the invasion of Ukraine, the whole world has been learning (or in some cases, re-learning) what makes Putin such a scary world leader.
In response to the invasion, many countries and corporate entities have tried to punish Putin by pulling businesses out of Russia and harshly sanctioning the country. But how much will such measures affect Putin? Or, as some think, is he too wealthy to care?
It actually seems like Putin may not be nearly as wealthy as people imagined. Don’t believe it? Here are the surprising details about Putin’s net worth.
An unexpected rise into politics
It’s impossible to talk about Putin’s wealth (or lack thereof) without talking about his political rise. Was Putin born wealthy and powerful, or was this more of a “right time, right place” situation?
It seriously looks like the latter. Back in the 1970s, Putin was just a law student at Leningrad State University. Sometimes before Putin’s 1975 graduation, he met an assistant professor named Anatoly Sobchak who became Putin’s mentor.
After graduation, these two parted ways. Sobchak stayed at the university and Putin went on to a 15-year career in the KGB. But when Putin retired in 1990 and returned to the university, the stage was set for his political ascendancy.
That’s because Sobchak now had his own political motivations, and Putin became his advisor. Sobchak ended up becoming mayor of St. Petersburg and helped author the Russian Constitution. As for Putin, he used these political connections to become deputy mayor of St. Petersburg in 1994, setting the stage for his own political rise.
A long presidency and the question of wealth
If it feels like Putin has been Russia’s president for a long time, that is because he has. In fact, he has controlled the country for nearly two decades!
It started in 1999. At that time, Putin was serving as the country’s security chief, but Russian President Boris Yeltsin appointed Putin as Prime Minister. When Yeltsin resigned the presidency on Dec. 31, 1999, Putin became the county’s acting president. He then won the election and became Russia’s newly-elected president.
He’s held that post for most of the last two decades, with the exception of when he became prime minister again in 2008 due to Russian Constitutional limits on consecutive presidential terms. (These limits have since been overturned, allowing Putin to run for a fifth term in 2024.)
But did Putin become wealthy over these two decades in power?Forbes put forward a theory that Putin simply pretends to be really wealthy as part of his powerful image. But in reality, the Russian president has virtually unlimited access to the country’s private sector money, meaning that his own need for personal wealth is greatly diminished.
Friends in high (earning) places
One thing we know for sure: Putin definitely has wealthy friends!
We know this thanks to the Panama Papers leaked back in 2016. These papers revealed various offshore deals from a wide variety of wealthy people all around the world. Putin did not have any of his own information leaked, but these papers revealed that many in his inner circle of friends were quite wealthy indeed.
Those details came full circle when President Joe Biden ordered sanctions against five of Russia’s most affluent families. CNN points out that these sanctions are targeting those close to Putin, and the goal is to make it more difficult for these individuals to both hide and protect their riches.
One of the ways you can tell someone is wealthy or not is by studying their tastes. And it seems that Putin has some expensive tastes, especially when it comes to watches.
Putin loves to wear some very fancy watches for himself. In fact, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism points out that Putin has publicly sported watches from boutique brands such as Breguet Marine and Patek Philippe Perpetual Calendar. And Putin also loves to give expensive watches away as gifts, including giving one child a Blancpain watch worth thousands of dollars.
Speaking of worth, the Bureau estimates we have seen Putin rock about $213,000 worth of watches over the years. That’s a lot to spend on timepieces and may give us hints about Putin’s overall wealth.
Putin reportedly owns a home worth $1.3 billion
On paper, Putin has only admitted to owning two modest apartments. This includes an 830-square-foot apartment located in Saint Petersberg and a 1,600 square-foot apartment located in Moscow.
However, many believe that Putin owns other, much fancier properties that he simply does not declare. This includes a multi-million dollar palace (owned on paper by the Russian Federation) and another home off of the Black Sea.
Business Insider reports that this luxurious Black Sea property, pictured above, is worth $1.3 billion. It includes luxuries like a hockey rink, a nightclub, a Las Vegas-style casino, 11 guest bedrooms and an amphitheatre. Putin’s critics generally assume the president secretly lives in this palatial estate.
Why sanctions may not hurt Putin financially
The international response to Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has been to sanction Russia and, in some cases, sanction Putin himself. However, none of these sanctions have kept Putin from continuing the invasion.
The conclusion seems simple: Putin doesn’t think these sanctions will hurt him. That was certainly the conclusion of Heidi Crebo-Rediker, the former chief economist of the State Department. As she told Politico, Putin “obviously felt the confidence to move ahead regardless of the economic blowback. Sanctions did not deter.”
In all likelihood, the sanctions are ineffective because so much of Putin’s wealth and assets are hidden. Simply put, we cannot sanction what we don’t know about. That is the case for Putin’s wealthy friends as well. As U.S. Helsinki Commission Senior Advisor Paul Massaro bluntly told The New York Times, “It means that the sanctions that we hit these people with are largely going to be glorified press releases, because without knowing what these assets are, we can’t freeze them.”
So, what is Putin’s real net worth? An expert has weighed in on that.
Putin’s Net Worth Revealed
As for Putin’s exact net worth, this may be a secret he takes to the grave. Along with the superyacht that may or may not belong to him.
However, that hasn’t stopped experts from estimating his net worth. While the Kremlin claims Putin only earns $140,000 a year in his role as president, some estimate that Putin is actually the wealthiest man in the world!
That’s because Putin’s estimated assets are valued at $200 billion (via Fortune). That billion with a B!
That figure comes from financier Bill Browder who testified to the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee in 2017. He claims that Putin’s massive wealth came after a Moscow court jailed oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky in 2003 for fraud and tax evasion. Browder asserts that Putin blackmailed other oligarchs who wanted to avoid the same fate as Khodorkovsky.
“After Khodorkovsky’s conviction, the other oligarchs went to Putin and asked him what they needed to do to avoid sitting in the same cage as Khodorkovsky,” Browder said. “From what followed, it appeared that Putin’s answer was, “50%” He wasn’t saying 50% for the Russian government or the presidential administration of Russia, but 50% for Vladimir Putin personally.”
While Putin denies the allegations, he has admitted to being the wealthiest man “in the whole world” in a different way.
“I am the wealthiest man, not just in Europe but in the whole world: I collect emotions,” Putin has said. “I am wealthy in that the people of Russia have twice entrusted me with the leadership of a great nation such as Russia. I believe that is my greatest wealth.”