Citizens of Dmitrov, a town 40 miles outside of Moscow, noticed that their mayor, known for his love for expensive clothing, photoshopped the Prada logo out of the pictures where he is seen wearing a coat by this brand. Holod compiled a list of five other incidents when Russian officials had to hide and make up excuses for their love of luxury.
In 2015, Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny studied the wedding photos of Putin’s press secretary, Dmitry Peskov (on August 1, 2015, he married figure skater Tatiana Navka), and made a blogpost about his findings. In the pictures Peskov could be seen wearing a Richard Mille RM 52-01 wristwatch the estimated cost of which is $620,000, which amounts to four annual salaries of the press secretary.
In his interview to RBC, Peskov claimed that the watch had been a wedding gift from his spouse. “The watch was expensive, of course, but not nearly as expensive as certain subjects make it out to be,” he added. Tatiana Navka corroborated his statement: “I am an olympic gold medalist. I work year-round, even during the summers. Earning the salary of a professional athlete, I can, naturally, afford to give good gifts.” Like her husband, she claimed that the publicized price of the watch was not the amount she spent on it.
Navalny did not find their explanations convincing. His associates at the Anti-Corruption Foundation were able to find that Peskov appeared in public wearing that watch three months prior to the wedding ceremony. Later a guest from the wedding, former official Oleg Mitvol claimed that one of the other guests lent this watch to Peskov to “pull a prank” on the journalists. “Peskov realized that he would be photographed at the wedding and these pictures would quickly spread around the internet. Peskov borrowed the watch from one of the guests to pose in pictures wearing it. We were expecting that journalists would take the bait and they did. The following day everyone was trying to find out the price of the watch and make theories about how the newlywed husband could afford them,” he said.
In 2022, Mitvol was arrested under the suspicion of embezzlement on the Krasnoyarsk metro project.
“It is embarrassing to admit that I wear counterfeit goods”
On January 10, 2023, journalist Maria Rakcheeva noticed that the footwear that Tatiana Panfilova, Ryazan City Council chair, wore to the site of a utility accident appears similar to ankle boots by Chloé priced at 109,000 rubles ($1,800). In her post on the VK social network Rakcheeva wrote that she found it “inappropriate to be posing in European boutique boots on Ryazan’s broken and frozen sidewalks next to yet another burst heating main.”
Some media outlets cited this post, which led to the official calling Rakcheeva to explain that she bought these boots for 4,500 rubles ($75) from a counterfeit store on Instagram. “It is embarrassing to admit that I wear counterfeit goods,” Panfilova told the journalist.
“Some things should be left private”
In 2012, the Russian Orthodox Church’s official website displayed an edited photograph of the Patriarch. He was not wearing a watch on his wrist, however, it reflected off the tabletop where he rested his arms. The photograph was taken in 2009, but was edited only three years later. The original picture which shows the Patriarch wearing a Breguet watch worth $30,000 can still be found on the church’s public relations webpage.
Soon the photograph disappeared from the website and the head of the Patriarchy’s PR had this to say: “I believe that it is inappropriate to be examining people’s personal wear or gifts. Regardless of whether the person in question is the Patriarch, a journalist or another public figure. Some things should be left private, encroaching on which I consider utterly unethical,” he told the Kommersant FM radio station.
However, the Patriarchy's PR department later admitted to having photoshopped the photograph and apologized for “such a ridiculous mistake.” The Patriarch himself called the pictures fake and told Vladimir Solovyov (infamous Russian propagandist) that he wears a “cheap Russian watch with the Russian Coat of Arms,” which was a gift from Dmitry Medvedev (then president of Russia). Solovyov also cited the Patriarch saying that he does in fact own a Breguet watch, but he never took it out of the box and it is still stored somewhere with other gifts.
Another official who accused journalists of lying about his watch is Andrei Beresnev, mayor of the Siberian city of Kansk. Following a 2023 publication regarding his golden Rolex, which is estimated to cost 10 million rubles ($165,000), Beresnev claimed that he does in fact own a golden watch, but it is not a Rolex and it does not cost 10 million rubles (he did not specify what kind of watch he owned). Beresnev said that he had bought it 25 years ago and called the media’s coverage of the subject “journalist fiction.”
Shortly before the incident with the watch, the Kansk City Council requested that their chairman investigate the cost of Beresnev’s New Year’s holiday in Thailand. “In these trying times, when mobilized citizens participate in the special military operation (official Russian term for the war in Ukraine—ed. Holod) and die for their country, they (government officials, one of whom is the mayor of Kansk—ed. Holod) have demonstrated their superiority, fake patriotism, and have set themselves apart from the rest of society,” the representatives wrote in their request.
“My friends are not among the poorest people on the planet”
In 2015, the journalists at RBC tallied up the cost of watches that various Russian government officials wear. Ramzan Kadyrov, the head of Chechnya, took first prize in this competition—he wears a Greubel Forsey watch worth $280,000. Kadyrov published his response on Instagram, where he claimed to own a sizable collection of watches, the vast majority of which consists of gifts from his friends around the world.
“My friends are not among the poorest people on the planet. I in turn also give my friends various gifts and exchange with them if they have a rare item that is not in my collection yet. I have never received and never will receive watches or other valuable gifts from my subordinates or other people that depend on me. They are not in the position to be doing so,” Kadyrov wrote and claimed that the Greubel Forsey allegedly has a very different price tag. In the same post, the head of Chechnya boasted that his collection includes items “which used to belong to important people in world history.”