Who is America’s “Darth Vader”? A couple of names probably spring to mind, including North Korea’s Kim Jong-un. Aside from the North Korean dictator, though, there’s one other man who would probably compete for the title: Vladimir Putin. Putin, the long-serving President of the Russian Federation, has been a prominent figure on the world stage for years now. But over the past year and a half, he’s become a mainstay in American headlines and news reports.
Not only is he a looming, ominous presence that has reportedly thrown our political system into chaos. Putin is also, by most counts, incredibly wealthy. So wealthy, in fact, that he may even give Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, and Warren Buffett a literal run for their money. But we don’t typically think of Putin as being among the world’s richest people, even though he’s at or near the top of the list when it comes to leaders and politicians.
That’s because there’s a lot of conflicting and unverified information out there regarding his finances. We know that Putin is rich. We just don’t know how rich he is, to simplify it. Not only that, but there’s a lot of mystery surrounding the means and methods Putin used to acquire so much wealth. He wasn’t born rich, and yet, he somehow managed to climb the ladder from military officer to what Forbes describes as “the world’s most powerful person for four years running”.
How much is Vladimir Putin really worth, how did he come by all that money, and what does he do with it? We’ll get to it all, next.
First: Vladimir Putin’s official net worth.
Vladimir Putin: Net worth
- Rumors (which we’ll get to) say Putin is worth hundreds of billions. What’s our best official guess?
Putin’s net worth is hard to pin down. Our best guess is an estimate floated in 2007 by a Kremlin adviser, who estimated his net worth at $40 billion. That estimate was based on his stake in Russian energy interests, among other things. The issue is that nobody can really verify Putin’s assets, and therefore, can’t calculate his net worth. Even Forbes won’t include him on its annual list of the world’s richest people due to the fact that it can’t corroborate his holdings. And now that 10 years have passed, he’s probably worth substantially more — but again, nobody knows for sure.
“Vladimir Putin is not on the list because we have not been able to verify his ownership of assets worth $1 billion or more”, a Forbes spokeswoman told Newsweek in 2015.
In 2012, though, a new estimate surfaced: $70 billion.
Next: Putin’s humble beginnings as a KGB officer.
Coming up KGB
- One thing we do know about Putin? He wasn’t born rich.
Putin was born in Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) in 1952. His parents were middle-class Russians, and Putin’s official biography, on his official website, says that he had a “normal” life at a young age. “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,” Putin said.
Despite humble beginnings, he eventually went to law school and became an intelligence officer in the Russian military. He spent 16 years in the KGB and switched gears to politics in the early ’90s. He went to Moscow in 1996 to work under President Boris Yeltsin. Putin himself was elected president in 2000, after taking over in 1999 following Yeltsin’s resignation.
Next: How did he make all that money?
- From the KGB to the presidency — but how did Putin get so rich?
So, how did Putin get so rich? Again, we don’t really know. We do know that he has holdings in a number of Russian companies. But we also have reports from inside Russia that say Putin earns a lot of his money through extortion and theft. They say that Putin has access to public assets and companies to use as piggy banks, and has a sort of extortion scheme with a number of Russian oligarchs. Under his watch, too, the Russian economy has experienced unprecedented growth, earning him more money through investments and kickbacks.
Next: How he keeps all his money — and makes more.
… And staying rich.
- Getting your hands on the money is one thing. Keeping it is another.
How is Puting holding onto all of that money? By maintaining power. He’s held the Russian presidency for almost two decades now and is feared as one of the most powerful people in the world. He’s been accused of murdering his political rivals and journalists, and of course, in sowing chaos in other countries. This heavy-handed approach has allowed him to keep earning and keep his revenue streams open, as most people aren’t willing to tango with a man towing such a reputation.
Next: How does he spend his riches?
Where he’s “Putin” all that money
- “Officially”, Putin earned $133,763.63 in 2015 and only owns a small Moscow apartment.
Despite the official figures, Putin is wealthy — as we’ve mentioned. He reportedly has more 20 palaces and villas. He also has been building a “secret palace” using public funds. There are reports that he also has a personal armada of vehicles, including yachts, helicopters, and more than 40 airplanes. Then there are the reports that he loves expensive watches and clothes. His suits can cost tens of thousands — and his watches? Even more.
Next: How Putin’s wealth compares to that of the average Russian
Putin versus the average Russian
- The average Russian adult has around $11,000 in assets. The average American has more than $300,000, for comparison.
Even compared to the average American, the average Russian has little wealth. Reports put the figure for the average Russian adult at around $11,000 in total assets, which is a small percentage of even the average American. But compared to Putin? The average Russian has practically nothing, even if we lowball Putin’s net worth at, say, $40 billion.
Finally: Could Vladimir Putin be the richest person on Earth?
The world’s richest man?
- Rumor has it that Putin could actually be worth as much as $200 billion.
Finally, let’s address those rumors that Putin is, in fact, the richest person in the world. The rumors say that he is worth somewhere near $200 billion, which would make him twice as rich as Jeff Bezos. The problem, as we’ve discussed, is that nobody can verify his wealth. Putin has wealth hidden in all sorts of different assets — be it investments, real estate, vehicles, etc. — all over the world. He may very well have hundreds of billions, but nobody can prove it.
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