Russian politicians' taste for the finer things in life — often well in excess of their official income — has been in the news lately after Dmitry Peskov, President Vladimir Putin's spokesman, was spotted wearing this $620,000 watch.
Having more bling than you know what to do with, or how to hide, has long been a problem for Russia's ruling elite. In 2012, an opposition group published a video detailing Putin's apparent $700,000 watch collection.
That same year, the Russian Orthodox Church even photoshopped its patriarch's $35,000 Breguet watch out of a picture — but compounded the embarrassment by forgetting to remove its reflection from the table.
After the scandal over Peskov's watch, opposition leader Alexei Navalny turned his attention to other Russian politicians wearing finery beyond their apparent means.
"I think it shows that they are so certain about how they control media and the legal system that they understand there will be no formal consequences," Navalny told BuzzFeed News in a phone interview. "They control everything, 100%. They aren't afraid of the opinion of the public at large either."
In an investigation shared with BuzzFeed News, Navalny's Anti-Corruption Foundation identified eight Russian politicians wearing expensive, mostly Swiss-made jewelry that, according to the manufacturers and online retailers, is worth far more than the average Russian's income and, in many cases, even their own. All of them are women — a reflection of the gender structures in Russia, where very few women hold prominent positions in government, as well as the culture of officialdom in the country, which expects men to look drably smooth while expecting a more traditional, flashy, and kitsch femininity from women. Russian society at large is deeply sexist by Western standards and regards feminism as an outré foreign perversion.
"It was important to do women because 99% of our corruption investigations were about men," Navalny said. "Leaving them out would be sexist," he joked. Though Navalny's team did not intentionally target women, they figured so prominently because "there is this political culture in Russia where the men do the real politics and the women don't, so they can show off more," he said. "It's the height of bad taste — they show up to work in the government dressed like Kim Kardashian."
Navalny's team found all the necklaces, watches, earrings, and watches from open sources — photographs of the politicians, taken by news agencies and their own press services, wearing expensive finery at official events. Manufacturers confirmed the prices in cases where they were not listed publicly. None of the spokespeople BuzzFeed News contacted for comment replied. "Nobody has that information," one of them said. "What do you want? She's the third most powerful person in Russia — you want me to go and ask her, 'Valentina Ivanovna, where did you get that expensive ring?'"