MOSCOW - Russian President Vladimir Putin apparently has a soft spot for luxury watches, but some are wondering why the timepieces haven't been hard on his wallet.
The Russian opposition group Solidarity has produced a slick video that begins with the title "Watches of a Kleptocrat" splashed on the screen. It lists Putin's collection of pricey wristwatches, which the groups says are worth nearly $700,000 - about six times his official annual salary. The Solidarity video questioned how Putin could afford such a lavish collection, suggesting this was evidence of government fraud.
The video also compares Putin's watches with President Obama's watch, which it says is a $200 model made by Jorg Gray (it's actually listed for $350 on the company's website, which is plastered with photos of Obama wearing it), and new French President Francois Hollande's $150 Swatch Quarterman.
The crown jewel appears to be the Tourbograph, a $500,000 masterpiece by German watchmaker A Lange & Sohne. It boasts platinum casing, gold plated arms, sapphire-crystal glass, and a hand-stitched crocodile leather strap. The video shows him wearing the watch on May 12 of this year.
The video also shows Putin wearing a $60,000 Patek Philippe Perpetual Calendar (some models are going for even more on eBay), an $18,000 Patek Philippe Calatrava, a Breguet Marine worth $15,000, a $10,000 Blancpain Leman Flyback, and a Blancpain Leman Aqua Lung Grande Date worth around $10,500.
Putin's official salary is listed as 3,661,765 rubles, or about $115,000.
"Putin, it seems, did not eat or drink for six years to acquire this collection," Boris Nemtsov, a former prime minister and Solidarity leader, wrote sarcastically on a blog on Thursday.
Putin has also been known to give the luxury watches away as gifts, often spontaneously off his own wrist. He gave one of his watches, identified in the video as a Blancpain worth around $10,500, to a Siberian boy he met while on vacation in August 2009. He gave a similar watch to a stunned factory worker in September 2009 and the video shows him tossing another Blancpain into wet cement at a construction site in August 2010.
President Putin's close friend, former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, is also known for his lavish lifestyle which includes a penchant for luxury timepieces, which he often gave as gifts. The anti-privacy group Wikileaks released confidential U.S. diplomatic cables that suggested Berlusconi had given Putin "lavish gifts" in exchange for lucrative energy contracts.
This isn't the first time opposition groups have questioned how prominent Russians without multi-million dollar salaries have obtained expensive watches. A Russian website has compiled a list of politicians and officials wearing them and Patriarch Kirill, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, had to apologize after his $30,000 Breguet timepiece was caught being photoshopped out of pictures earlier this year.