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New Investigation Exposes Glam Life Of Vladimir Putin's Bling Ring

Women across the Russian political spectrum own watches, jewels, and other finery at disproportionate cost to their declared income, anti-corruption activists working for the opposition leader Alexei Navalny found.

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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.

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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.

View this video on YouTube

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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.

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"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?'"

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And these earrings from de Grisogono cost about $23,000. Most of these photos date back before the ruble's collapse last year, when Matvienko and her husband declared about $100,000 annually in income.

2. Tatiana Golikova, head of the Accounts Chamber, which controls the government budget. Golikova's own budget evidently extended to this Cat's Eye Bloom watch from Girard Perregaux, which costs about $13,000.

This watch from Maurice Lacroix, costs about $10,000. As health minister, Russian media implicated Golikova in a number of corruption scandals, notably over lobbying a drug with no proven benefits — but manufactured by people close to her family.

3. Navalny's team also implicated Irina Yarovaya, a lawmaker behind bills cracking down on NGOs and public protests, as well as enforcing a Kremlin-backed history of World War II. This set of earrings and a necklace from Chanel costs $15,800.

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7. Even totally obscure politicians like Elmira Glubokovskaya, a lawmaker from Putin's United Russia party, own finery beyond their means, Navalny found. Glubokovskaya's watch is a Hublot Big Bang that costs $25,700.

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8. The most expensive item Navalny found belongs to Alina Kabaeva, an Olympic gold-winning gymnast and former lawmaker who now runs a major pro-Kremlin media group. Tabloids have long rumored her to be Putin's girlfriend.

Kabaeva's watch is a Reine de Naples watch from Breguet, made with diamonds, rubies, and 18-carat white gold. It costs $168,000 — about half of Kabaeva's declared income during her time in parliament, when this photo was taken.

Max Seddon is a correspondent for BuzzFeed World based in Berlin. He has reported from Russia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan and across the ex-Soviet Union and Europe. His secure PGP fingerprint is 6642 80FB 4059 E3F7 BEBE 94A5 242A E424 92E0 7B71

Contact Max Seddon at max.seddon@buzzfeed.com.

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