To paraphrase the comedian Mel Brooks: it's good to be the President of Russia.
According to a report released today by a pair of Russian opposition leaders, President Vladimir Putin enjoys the use of 20 official villas and residences around the country, a billion-dollar fleet of government jets, and a mini-armada of state-owned luxury yachts.
The authors, former deputy prime minister Boris Nemtsov and opposition activist Leonid Martynyuk, say these perks allows Putin to live like a "Gulf King" or an oligarch, all while ordinary Russians struggle to make ends meet. They claim the budget for the Office of Presidential Affairs is over $2.7 billion, which they say is about the same as the budget for the entire city of Nizhny Novgorod, which is home to 3.3 million people.
Most of the assets listed in the report are owned by the state, not Putin, but they dwarf his relatively modest official salary of about $120,000.
At that salary, the opposition leaders point out, Putin would have to refrain from eating, drinking, or doing anything for about six years just to pay for his luxury watch collection, which is said to be worth about $700,000.
The report says the number of palaces, villas, and residences available to President Putin has doubled since he took office in 2000, including several that were built on Putin's orders. Others are old palaces that belonged to Russian czars. Some are appointed with pools, tennis courts, helipads, bowling allies, and movie theaters.
When Putin has to fly anywhere, he has his choice of 43 airplanes. The report says a toilet on one of them cost $75,000. He also has 15 helicopters at his disposal.
Putin also has use of four luxury yachts, including one that the report claims is among the world's top 100 mega-yachts. The 187-foot boat reportedly boasts mahogany finishes, a Jacuzzi, and is alone worth $50 million. Another of Putin's yachts, valued at $37 million, was acquired in 2011 and has its own wine cellar and a spa complete with a waterfall.
Putin's spokesman Dimitry Peskov told the Russian newspaper Kommersant that he hadn't read the report, but said the government resources available to President Putin are no state secret.
"Information on the residences and transportation of the president is absolutely open," he said.
Nemtsov was quoted as telling the newspaper Moskovsky Komsomolets that no publishing house would agree to publish the report, which he said was a sign of the "level of fear there is of the authorities."