May 1, 2003
Putin splashes out 2.6m pounds on luxury yacht
BY TOM PARFITT
VLADIMIR Putin, the president of Russia, is spending oe2.6 million on a luxury yacht in a fresh sign of his taste for expensive accessories.
Craftsmen in Moscow confirmed yesterday that they are near to completing the vessel, named Pallada.
However, managers at the MSZ shipyard refused to elaborate on details of the yacht, saying it is being kept under wraps until it is finished this month.
Dmitri Mironenko, the commercial director, said: "I can only tell you that we constructed the yacht in a record period by not just Russian, but also European standards. No further details are available without the approval of the owner."
Mr Putin may be wary of revealing his new toy after coming under fire last year when he ordered a refurbishment of his summer retreat, the Konstantinovsky Palace, outside St Petersburg, costing oe117 million.
The decision was criticised at a time when some cash-strapped government ministries were refusing to pay their workers.
A feature of the palace improvements was the addition of a jetty with a mooring for Mr Putin's yacht in the Gulf of Finland.
Mr Putin has a penchant for expensive accessories and upgrades, including the recent oe10 million refit of his Ilyushin Il-96 aircraft.
The plane was decked out with silks and tapestries and the president's private quarters given a sophisticated hi-fi system, a huge flat-screen television and a bathroom with gold-plated taps.
Details of the Pallada are being kept secret, but a Dutch company revealed at the end of last year that it was working on a oe300,000 order for the interior of the vessel.
Russian newspapers have suggested that Mr Putin may want to replace the presidential yacht, Kavkaz, built in the early 1980s as a personal vessel for the general secretary of the Communist Party.
The Kavkaz was refurbished two years ago using rare types of wood, including teak, different types of cherry and Honduran mahogany. Its upper rooms now have suspended ceilings made of mirrored glass and downstairs, "the sofas are covered in white real leather and the chairs in brightly coloured fabric," claimed a report in the daily Komsomolskaya Pravda.
But despite its oe1.5 million makeover, the Kavkaz is outdated and a potential embarrassment for a world leader trying to impress foreign dignitaries. Last year, Mr Putin used a yacht borrowed from an executive at Russia's energy monopoly, Gazprom, for his meeting with Leonid Kuchma, the president of the Ukraine, at Sochi, on the Black Sea.
The leaders earned plaudits for discussing knotty political issues while padding around in their stockinged feet, obeying the rule not to wear shoes while aboard. Mr Putin seemed unconcerned, but may have wished for more luxurious surroundings.
Some commentators have suggested the new presidential yacht could be a gift from one of Russia's wealthy oligarchs keen to curry favour with the man in the Kremlin.
During his 50th birthday celebrations last October, Mr Putin was showered with exotic gifts as businessmen and leaders sought to gain ascendancy. One present was a replica of the jewelled Shapka Monomakha, or the Cap of Monomakh, the ancient ceremonial crown used at the coronation of tsars.
Mr Putin has dismissed accusations that he is developing tastes similar to those of leaders before the 1917 revolution.
He said work at the Konstantinovsky Palace - due to be completed in time for the 300th anniversary of St Petersburg this month - is being financed by private money.
Kremlin press officers refused to comment on the imminent completion of Mr Putin's yacht.