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Russian Patriarch's Flashy Watch Draws Scrutiny -- Again

Patriarch Kirill (left) was spotted wearing the expensive watch late last month in a photograph flagged by a Kremlin-critical news site.

Eight years ago, it was a $39,000 watch -- and a doctored photograph -- that got the head of the Russian Orthodox Church in trouble.

This time, it's a $16,000 watch that Patriarch Kirill was spotted wearing in a photograph flagged by a Kremlin-critical news site.

Kirill's taste for wrist bling is not a major scandal for the church -- yet anyway.

But it's the latest in series of semi-embarrassing headlines that have highlighted the wealthy tastes of powerful Russian political figures, religious or otherwise.

The watch on Kirill's wrist was spotted by Open Media, a Russian-language news organization financed by the exiled former oil tycoon, Mikhail Khodorkovsky. Since being pardoned by Russian President Vladimir Putin and fleeing Russia, the businessman has become an increasingly open and strident critic of Putin.

In a photograph published in January 2018, Kirill is shown attending an event at the Russian upper house of parliament, timed apparently for the Orthodox Christmas holiday. Kirill is shown seated alongside the head of the Federation Council, Valentina Matviyenko.

As Kirill removes his eyeglasses, a watch can be seen on his left wrist.

In its fresh report issued on February 5, Open Media identified the watch as a Ulysse Nardin Dual Time 42 mm model that the outlet valued at approximately $16,000.

As of February 6, church officials had not commented publicly on the report. An e-mail sent by RFE/RL to the Moscow press office for the Russian church was not immediately returned.

The patriarch's taste in wrist-wear was the subject of scrutiny in 2009, when an earlier photograph was published on the church's official website, showing Kirill seated at a polished wooden table with what appeared to be another expensive watch on his left wrist.

It was identified by sharp-eyed bloggers as being a Swiss-made Breguet watch, valued at around $39,000. Church officials at the time explained that the watch, whose case was reportedly made from white gold and whose band was made of crocodile leather, was a gift from a wealthy parishioner.

Kirill said he never wore the timepiece.

Three years later, the same photograph appeared on the church's website, and the watch was airbrushed out of photograph. However, bloggers noticed that the reflection of the watch was still visible in the polished table.

A church employee was forced to apologize, calling the attempt to hide the watch a "foolish mistake."

Elite Timepieces

The costly chronometers of Russia's elite were in the news as recently as five years ago, when anticorruption crusader Aleksei Navalny published an investigation into a watch seen on the wrist of the Kremlin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov.

Navalny's investigators determined the watch was a rare Richard Mille RM 52-01, rumored to cost as much as $620,000,

Then there was the Russian mafia boss who boasted that he had been gifted a presidential wristwatch by none other than President Vladimir Putin himself.

The crime boss, Sergei Mikhailov, posted on his website photographs of the watch, which is embossed with Russia's double-headed eagle and Putin's signature, with an accompanying certificate purportedly signed by Putin.

Peskov denied Mikhailov's account.

A photograph of the watch in question -- with Putin's signature visible -- is still viewable on Mikhailov's website, along with the accompanying certificate.

And then there's Putin's own watches that have been in the news. Back in 2009, when he was serving as prime minister, Putin visited a factory in the industrial town of Tula and struck up a chat with the factory workers.

One worker approached Putin and asked for something to remember him by.

Putin handed the worker, dressed in blue overalls, his $6,000 Blancpain timepiece.

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    Mike Eckel

    Mike Eckel is a senior correspondent reporting on political and economic developments in Russia, Ukraine, and around the former Soviet Union, as well as news involving cybercrime and espionage. He's reported on the ground on Russia's invasion of Ukraine, the wars in Chechnya and Georgia, and the 2004 Beslan hostage crisis, as well as the annexation of Crimea in 2014.