Vladimir Putin, by some accounts the richest man in the world, has ordered an across-the-board pay cut for government workers - including himself.
Falling oil prices and tightened economic sanctions have given new meaning to "bearish economy" in the nation, and President Putin, who has controlled Russia from the positions of prime minister or president since 1999, is giving everyone on the Kremlin payroll a 10 percent pay cut. The move was signed into law by Putin on Friday, as was another decree that cuts the number of government officials by up to 20 percent.
" ... I worked like a galley slave, to spare no effort. I am happy with the results."
- Russian President Vladimir Putin
“Beginning from March 1 and ending on December 31, 2015, pay the president of the Russian Federation (Putin), the head of the government of the Russian Federation (Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev)…their monthly salaries and quarterly bonuses with a decrease of 10 percent,” the order on the Kremlin's press service’s site reads.
Putin’s press secretary, Dmitry Peskov, told reporters Putin broke the news in a meeting of the permanent members of Russia’s Security Council Friday. Earlier this week, State Duma speaker Sergey Naryshkin told fellow lawmakers that he planned to ask Putin for the pay cut as part of the Russian government’s budget plan. Russian lawmakers are paid approximately $6,700. The average salary in Putin's administration is about half that. The order apparently applies to all government workers.
The Draconian measures are part of Moscow's emergency plan to address collapsing revenues due to the fall in global oil prices and economic sanctions imposed on the country in the wake of Russia's incursion into Ukraine. Crude oil is currently trading around $50 a barrel, less than half the price when Russia's national budget was formulated last summer.
A 10 percent pay cut - or even worse, a layoff - would prove crippling to most Russians, but Putin can handle it. His net worth has been the subject of wild speculation, with some placing it as high as $200 billion.
"Frankly, I don’t even know my own salary – they just give it to me, and I put it away in my account," Putin told members of the press during his annual Q&A session in December.
Putin had some idea of what his salary was in 2013, when he listed his presidential salary as 5.8 million rubles, about $95,000 at current conversion rates.
Putin has always dismissed charges that he has amassed a huge fortune since taking control of Russia. Because his wealth is believed to be spread out through secret bank accounts, shell companies and frontmen, pinning down the size of his net worth is impossible.
Whatever he has accumulated, he appears to believe he earned.
"As for my personal perception, I am not ashamed before the citizens who voted for me," Putin said in a famous 2008 quote. "All these eight years I worked like a galley slave, to spare no effort. I am happy with the results."
In 2012, Putin critic Boris Nemtsov turned the quote around on Putin with a 32-page report entitled "The Life of a Galley Slave." The report detailed the fleet of cars, planes and boats at Putin's disposal and claimed the onetime KGB agent owns 20 homes, 58 aircraft and four yachts, including a 176-foot vessel with a spa pool and waterfall and a more elaborate five-deck boat with a barbecue.
Nemtsov was killed mysteriously last month as he walked with his girlfriend near the Kremlin.
Economists say the moves show Russia is staggering under the weight of sanctions and low oil prices. The International Monetary Fund estimated that Russia's economy would shrink by 3 percent this year, and inflation in the country rose to 16.7 percent in February. Russians reportedly spend half of their salaries on food alone.