MIGHTY CULTURE

Gerard Butler totally gets why troops hate military movie mistakes

There’s nothing more irritating to troops and veterans than sitting down and watching a military film only to be distracted by inaccuracies. We’re not just talking about uniform infractions or other minor goofs — everyone makes mistakes. Sometimes, however, the scripts are just so fundamentally flawed that us veterans can’t help but start chucking things at the screen.

Thankfully, for every stinker that insists on ignoring the on-set military advisor, there’s a great film that gets it right.

The team here at We Are The Mighty recently got a chance to sit down with Gerard Butler, star and producer of the film Hunter Killer, to discuss the production crew’s commitment to portraying the lives of U.S. sailors as accurately as possible in the upcoming thriller.


The wardrobe department pulled off some outstanding attention to detail. From the bottom of our hearts at We Are The Mighty, BZ, ‘Hunter Killer’ wardrobe department! BZ!

(Summit Entertainment)

There really isn’t any better way for filmmakers to faithfully capture the essence of military life than by deferring to those who serve — and that’s exactly what Gerard Butler and the crew of Hunter Killer did throughout pre-production and rehearsal.

Butler spent three days aboard a real Virginia-class submarine, carefully watching every detail and nuance of actual submariner life to better tell their story. Even the tiny details — like the order in which commands are given — were analyzed, written down, and implemented when it came time to shoot. And when they put theory into practice, the authenticity was immediately apparent.

That extra step helped put all the actors into the frame of mind they needed to truly portray submariners in the heat of combat. Butler told us,

“We actually wrote [the details of submariner life] into the script and we realized it was a whole other character in the story. And when we started — the difference that it made!”

Butler knows full-well that the devil’s in the details when it comes to military movies. He told us about his time aboard the USS Houston, when he sat down to watch a much-beloved naval film with the sailors. It was the eye-opener to say the least.

“When I sat to watch… with the submarine crew, and they’re all like taking ownership of the movie and they’re like, ‘that’s bullsh*t!’ while the captain is like, ‘That’s sh*t! You think that’s good, but that’s bullsh*t! He’d never wear that hat! What are those stripes? He wouldn’t say that!'”

Needless to say, Butler and the rest of the Hunter Killer crew recognized how important these details are for us and our community.

Be sure to check out Hunter Killer when it’s released on October 26th.

MIGHTY CULTURE

Here are the major lessons I learned from carrying the M27

Following the rulebook isn’t always a necessity. Well, that’s how the Marine Corps infantry feels about doctrine, anyway. Sure, there are hundreds of people who put their great minds together to come up with standard procedures for everything relating to warfare, but even still, us grunts take those “procedures” as suggestions. Why? Simple. We recognize that what may work for one unit doesn’t work for everyone.

This is the case with the fire team billet of “automatic rifleman.” The position is supposed to be held by the team leader’s second in command, usually a trusted advisor who can help run the team. But, over the years, Marines thought of a better person to hold the billet: boots. New guys. The FNGs. While some higher-ups might see this as hazing, the down-and-dirty, crayon-eating grunts disagree.

We argue that being an automatic rifleman teaches you these valuable lessons:


Accuracy is key. Pay attention and you might even score higher on the next qualification range.

(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Emmanuel Ramos)

Accuracy

Some battalions have what’s called a “Squad-Level Advanced Marksmanship Course,” which is a fancy, Marine Corps way of saying, “automatic rifleman course.” That’s essentially what it is. But the focus is, as the name suggests, on marksmanship. Why? Because to be a good automatic rifleman, you must first be a good rifleman.

Learning how to engage accurately with an automatic weapon also teaches you how to be a substantially more effective rifleman. After all, you’re firing a high volume of bullets and, the more accurate you are, the more devastating to the enemy you are.

You’ll want to let the rounds fly, but each one is important. Always be mindful of that.

(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Alicia R. Leaders)

Ammo conservation

It’s no secret that you get a lot of ammo as an automatic rifleman — around 18-22 magazines, to be exact, most of which you’ll be responsible for lugging around. But while learning about accuracy, you might also learn about conserving ammo.

The idea is this: You need to have enough ammo at the end of the fight to move on to the next fight. Especially if you’re the automatic rifleman, your fire team needs you.

This lesson of control can even help you as a leader, telling your automatic rifleman what you want them to do.

(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Aaron Henson)

Control

Quickly, you’ll learn that an automatic rifleman shouldn’t just unleash a barrage of bullets. You’ll learn when it’s appropriate to fire on full auto and when it’s appropriate to fire in 5-6 round bursts into large groups of enemies. This is important because, as you move up in rank and experience, you’ll be able to teach the next automatic rifleman about control.

This same control will help you with ammo conservation. More importantly, all these lessons will follow you into other fire team positions. In fact, if you become a squad leader, knowing how to use your automatic riflemen will be easier if you’ve been one.

MIGHTY FIT

Four simple tactics to build massive grip strength

If you struggle with exercises like pull-ups or the deadlift, chances are your legs and back aren’t to blame. It’s your weak-ass grip.

Have you ever used wrist straps while deadlifting or doing a back exercise?

If you have, then you know it’s usually much easier to go as heavy as possible. Why?


Your limiting factor isn’t that your back or legs are weak, it’s your grip.

For pull-ups, it’s more of the same story. You’ve probably noticed that doing exercises like rows and pulldowns for 10 to 15 isn’t too bad, even when the weight is more than your bodyweight. But doing the same for full range pull-ups is out of the question.

Again, it’s not your back that needs work but instead your grip strength.

If your weak grip is an issue and you want to learn some tricks for fixing it, check these suggestions out.

Thumb-over grip is better for mobility on pull-ups but harder on your grip strength.

U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Jacob Wilson

Bodyweight and weighted dead hangs

If you want a strong grip, try hanging on a bar for as long as possible. While it seems basic, chances are you can’t hang for more than a minute, at least at first.

Try jumping onto a pull-up bar with a pronated grip, where your hands are facing away from you. Allow your arms to fully extend overhead and hang unassisted for as long as possible. Then, repeat.

Once a minute is easy, start adding multiple sets.

When that gets too easy, add some extra weight with a dumbbell between your feet or thighs and repeat the process.

Not to mention that dead hangs are great for your low back pain.

If you have access to one of these pinch grip bars give it a shot. You’ll be amazed at how much less weight you can handle than with a traditional barbell.

U.S. Air Force photo by Roland Balik

Dead holds

The best part about building grip strength is that the techniques to do so are simple. Just like with dead hangs, a great way to develop massive grip strength is to hold on to some heavy ass weight for as long as possible.

Similar to dead hangs, set up a barbell in a squat rack with the safety pins just above your knees. Then, work up to a weight that you would come close to maxing out on the deadlift for three reps. Hold the weight for as long as you can and work your way up to 60 seconds per set.

The only thing here is that for maximum benefit, you can’t use an alternate grip if you usually do while deadlifting. You do that because it’s easier to hold on, right?

Instead, use a pronated or double overhand grip while doing dead holds. It will be humbling at first, but over time, your grip will become unstoppable.

Obviously, grip strength is huge if you expect to max out the deadlift on the ACFT.

U.S. Army Courtesy Photo

Plate holds

If you’ve got a weak grip, you also need to train the muscles in your hands that allow your fingers to stay firmly wrapped around the bar. One of the easiest ways to develop finger strength is the plate hold.

Depending on your grip strength, you want to start with a 10 to 45 pound weightlifting plate, like the ones you used to deadlift. Turn the plate vertical and grip the edge with your four fingers on one side and your thumb on the other.

Pick the plate up and hold for as long as possible. If you want an extra challenge, see how far your walk while holding the heaviest plate possible with your fingers.

It’s going to suck, but your grip will thank you.

Towel Pull-up Variations

www.youtube.com

Use a towel

No, seriously, using a towel to train is a lesser-known grip training tactic.

If you think doing a pull-up on a bar is challenging, try wrapping a towel around that bar and doing pull-ups while holding the towel instead.

The best thing here is that this tactic can be used with other equipment as well.

You can wrap the towel around the handle of a dumbbell or kettlebell and do curls or farmer’s walks. You can even use a towel for machines like lat pulldowns too.

Believe it or not, even repeatedly ringing out a thick towel is an effective way to build wrist and grip strength.

Just keep in mind, not all towels are created equal.

If you’re going to try and use this method for an exercise like pull-ups, place a crash pad underneath you, have a spotter or use a pull-up assist machine just in case the towel breaks.

Don’t be a looky-loo. Go try some of this stuff and get better.

(U.S. Army National Guard photo by Spc. Jason Archer)

If you have a solid training program that holistically trains your entire body, then grip strength probably isn’t a concern of yours. If you’re like most people and lack that training plan then sign up for The Mighty Fit Plan… it’s free and the perfect thing to help get your grip strength up to snuff.

Don’t forget to check out the Mighty Fit FB group for more Military and Veteran training greatness.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Judge denies bail for Air Force vet accused of leaking US secrets

A woman charged with leaking US secrets must remain jailed until her trial, a federal judge ruled Oct. 5, saying her release would pose an “ongoing risk to national security.”


Reality Winner, 25, is a former Air Force linguist who worked as a contractor for the National Security Agency at a facility in Augusta, Georgia, when she was charged in June with copying a classified US report and mailing it to a news organization.

Winner’s defense attorneys asked a judge to reconsider releasing her on bail after her trial date was postponed from October to next March. They argued Winner had no prior criminal history and served admirably in the military. Winner’s mother in Kingsville, Texas, planned to move to Georgia to ensure her daughter obeyed any terms of her bond.

Reality Leigh Winner. Photo from her Facebook.

But US Magistrate Judge Brian K. Epps sided with prosecutors in ruling that keeping Winner jailed is the only way to ensure she doesn’t flee overseas or leak more secret information. The judge referenced prosecutors’ transcript of a Facebook chat in February in which Winner wrote to her sister: “Look, I only say I hate America like 3 times a day.”

“By her own words and actions, (Winner) has painted a disturbing self-portrait of an American with years of national service and access to classified information who hates the United States and desires to damage national security on the same scale as Julian Assange and Edward Snowden,” Epps wrote.

Assange is the founder of the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks. Snowden is a former NSA contractor who leaked classified material exposing US government surveillance programs.

Julian Assange (left) and Edward Snowden. Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

The judge also said evidence against Winner appears strong, noting she confessed to FBI agents that she leaked a classified document and made similar admissions to relatives in recorded jailhouse phone calls.

Winner has pleaded not guilty.

Authorities have not publicly described the document Winner is charged with leaking, nor have they identified the news organization that received it. But the Justice Department announced Winner’s arrest on the same day The Intercept reported it had obtained a classified National Security Agency report suggesting Russian hackers attacked a US voting software supplier before last year’s presidential election.

The NSA report was dated May 5, the same as the document Winner is charged with leaking.

Articles

A Marine is getting closer to becoming the first female infantry officer

A female officer has neared the halfway mark of the Marine Corps Infantry Officer Course – further than previous women have progressed.


According to a report in the Marine Corps Times, the unidentified officer has roughly eight weeks left. Two female Marine officers have graduated the Army artillery course, and one had graduated the Army’s armor course. As many as 248 women are in ground combat units that were once restricted to men only as of July 19, 2017.

A student with Infantry Officer Course speaks to role-players at Range 220, the Combat Center’s largest military operations on urbanized terrain facility, Sept. 22, 2016, as part of Exercise Talon Reach. (Official Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Eric Clayton/Released)

“These are successes that never seem to get out in the press,” Gen. Glenn Walters, the Assistant Commandant of the Marine Corps said during a media roundtable.

The event also touched on what the Marine Corps Times report described as measures to “eliminate attitudes” that lead to the investigation of a Facebook group known as Marines United.

The last woman to attend the course was dropped after 12 days for failing to complete two conditioning hikes. The Washington Post reported 29 women had tried and failed to complete the very difficult course.

2nd Lt. Anthony Pandolfi, student, Infantry Officers Course 2-15, posts security after entering Range 220 during exercise Talon Reach V aboard the Combat Center, March 25, 2015. (Official Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Thomas Mudd/Released)

The opening of direct ground combat roles to women was announced in 2012, but the effort turned controversial in 2015 when then-Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus criticized a Marine Corps study that showed that 69 percent of the tasks were performed more efficiently by all-male units.

That lead to a dust-up with Sgt. Maj. Justin Lehew, who received the Navy Cross for heroism during Operation Iraqi Freedom.

No women have yet entered Marine Special Operations Command’s combat elements, but some are in support units. The first woman to try to complete SEAL training as an officer dropped out after a week, according to a report by DailyWire.com, which noted another female sailor is training to be a Special Warfare Combatant Craft crewman.

MIGHTY TRENDING

17 photos show what happens when 82nd Airborne attacks

The vaunted 82nd Airborne Division is America’s Global Response Force, tasked with answering the President’s phone call when he needs to place between 800 and 20,000 armed and well-trained soldiers into another country on short notice. And a group of 82nd Paratroopers just finished training in Bulgaria in a Combined-Arms Live-Fire Exercise, a CALFEX, giving us a chance to revel in how they operate.


Full disclosure, the author is a former member of the 82nd Airborne, and he is super biased. He’s also a former member of the 49th Public Affairs Detachment whose personnel took many of these photos, and he’s biased toward them as well. Basically, he’s biased as hell and doesn’t care who knows it.

(U.S. Army Spc. Justin Stafford)

The training was part of Swift Response 19 and went from June 11-25. The live-fire part was just the last four days of the event. The whole point was to test and validate the Global Response Force concept, deploying the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division to Europe to fight alongside other NATO powers in Europe.

(U.S. Army Spc. Justin Stafford)

Eight nations took part in the training including Italian and Canadian airborne forces. On June 18, these paratroopers took an airfield, and on June 20, they launched air assaults to take a simulated village in the Novo Selo Training Area. Above the paratroopers, helicopters with the 1st Combat Aviation Brigade, 1st Infantry Division provided support. The aviators hauled troops and weapons around the battlefield as well as fired on the enemy from the sky.

Simulated attacks, of course. No one really wants to kill the Bulgarians.

(U.S. Army Spc. Justin Stafford)

These combined exercises seek to test all the major individual and collective tasks that units have to accomplish. That’s a fancy way of saying they test the individual soldiers and the units at the same time. These tasks include everything from properly caring for a casualty to calling in fires to maneuvering a battalion or brigade against an enemy force.

(U.S. Army Spc. Justin Stafford)

And the combined part of the CALFEX means that everyone gets to play. The Apaches from the 1st Infantry Division provided close combat attack support, but Air Force assets like the A-10 often come to these parties as well. Occasionally, you can even see some naval assets fire from the sea or Marine aviators flying overhead. All of the services have some observers trained to call in fires from other branches’ assets so they can work together.

(U.S. Army Spc. Justin Stafford)

It’s actually part of why training with other countries is so important. If a paratrooper is deployed into a future war with, just pulling it out of a hat, Iran, then it’s worth knowing how to call the British ship in the Persian Gulf for help or for bombs from a jet flying off of France’s carrier the Charles de Gaulle.

(U.S. Army Spc. Justin Stafford)

Keep scrolling for a crapton more photos from the 82nd in Swift Response 19. If you want even more photos and videos and whatnot, try this link.

(U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Anthony Johnson)

(U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Anthony Johnson)

(U.S. Army Spc. Justin Stafford)

(U.S. Army Spc. Justin Stafford)

(U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Anthony Johnson)

(U.S. Army Spc. Justin Stafford)

(U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Anthony Johnson)

(U.S. Army Spc. Justin Stafford)

(U.S. Army Spc. Justin W. Stafford)

(U.S. Army Spc. Justin W. Stafford)

MIGHTY TRENDING

Rebels in Yemen may have captured one of the Navy’s most advanced drones

Video released Jan.  1 appears to show Houthi forces seizing a U.S. Navy unmanned underwater vehicle in waters off the coast of Yemen.


The video, posted by Al Masdar News, shows four men in dive gear holding the underwater drone, identified as a Remus 600 with logos from the manufacturer Hydroid and its parent company, Kongsberg. It also has the name “Smokey” printed on it.

Officials from the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet, whose area of responsibility includes the Red Sea, the Strait of Hormuz, and the Persian Gulf, would not confirm to USNI News whether the vehicle belonged to the U.S. or give information about UUV operations in the region.

An image from an undated video showing Houthi forces with what appears to be a U.S. Navy-operated drone. (Screenshot via Al Masdar News)

A U.S. defense official did tell USNI News that the UUV was a passive system the Navy was using as part of a meteorological study. The Al Masdar News post referred to the unmanned vehicle as a “spying device” used for “spying missions” by the Saudi-led coalition that has been fighting in Yemen since 2015.

“It is intended to operate in shallow waters, intended to operate in littoral spaces, and is designed to be pretty autonomous,” Dan Gettinger, the codirector of the Center for the Study of the Drone at Bard College, told USNI News about the REMUS 600. “It might be the most advanced UUV deployed.”

The Remus 600 costs about $1 million before add-ons for specific tasks, Gettinger said, adding that the U.S. Navy’s most common uses for it were mine-clearing missions and intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance, and target acquisition.

A Kongsberg fact sheet refers to the Remus 600 as “the most versatile member” of the Hydroid family of UUVs and says it can operate in depths of up to 600 meters and can be reconfigured for different payloads. It can travel up to 4.5 knots, and its length can be 9 feet to 18 feet, depending on how it is outfitted. Among its nonmilitary uses are emergency response, marine research, charting, ocean observation, and archaeology.

Also Read: This is why Yemen is a constant war zone

The Remus 600 has about 20 hours of operational use, Gettinger said, suggesting that it surfaced after a mission and was intercepted before its operator could recover it.

It’s not the first time Houthi rebels claimed to have intercepted U.S. hardware.

In October, rebels said they shot down a U.S. MQ-9 Reaper drone aircraft over the northern outskirts of Sanaa. Footage showed the drone spiraling to the ground in flames and a crowd gathering around the wreckage before Houthi rebels loaded the drone’s remnants onto a pickup truck. U.S. officials confirmed that a drone had been downed.

The U.S. has been carrying out operations in Yemen against ISIS and Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, but Washington has also been quietly supporting the Saudi-led war in the country. The U.S.’s role has drawn criticism, particularly over civilian casualties. U.S. lawmakers have pursued a bill that would restrict U.S. action in Yemen.

MIGHTY CULTURE

How pilots train to survive, evade, resist, and escape behind enemy lines

Being an aircrew member in the armed forces isn’t just flying a plane, helicopter or a jet. It’s putting your own personal safety on the line to protect people from threats known and unknown.

Lastly, it’s being brave enough to answer a call that most don’t.

From as early as 1909, when the Wright brothers sold the Wright military flyer to the US Army Signal Corps, aircraft and aircrew have been a vital part to the success of military operations.

The armed forces puts a great emphasis on ensuring these pilots are safe and have the knowledge and skills to make it home safe in any situation they might endure.

This responsibility heavily lies on the shoulders of the United States Air Force’s survival, evasion, resistance, and escape (SERE) specialist, whose main job is to train aircrew and other military personnel how to survive in a variety of environments and conditions.


Staff Sgt. David Chorpeninng, 366th Fighter Wing survival, evasion, resistance, and escape specialist, explains the differences between the illumination and smoke ends of the MK-124 marine smoke and illumination signal to Capt. Scott Hatter and Capt. Tyler Ludwig, 389th Fighter Squadron aircrew, at Saylor Creek Bombing Range, Idaho, Sept. 26, 2019.

(US Air Force photo by Airman Antwain L. Hanks)

Chorpeninng pops a M-18 smoke grenade, at Saylor Creek Bombing Range, Idaho, Sept. 26, 2019.

(US Air Force photo by Airman Antwain L. Hanks)

Chorpeninng explains to Hatter how to properly use a MK-124 marine smoke and illumination signal, at Saylor Creek Bombing Range, Idaho, Sept. 26, 2019.

(US Air Force photo by Airman Antwain L. Hanks)

Tech Sgt. Timothy Emkey, 366th Fighter Wing survival, evasion, resistance, and escape specialist, checks radio communications, at Saylor Creek Bombing Range, Idaho, Sept. 26, 2019.

(US Air Force photo by Airman Antwain L. Hanks)

Emkey demonstrates how to use the surrounding area to evade the enemy’s line of sight, at Saylor Creek Bombing Range, Idaho, Sept. 26, 2019.

(US Air Force photo by Airman Antwain L. Hanks)

Aircrew are then given certain points to reach via global positioning system before they contact friendly forces to extract them from the hostile area.

Aircrew throughout history, such as Capt. Scott F. O’Grady who in 1995 was shot down and stranded in enemy territory for six days during the Bosnian War, used these skills taught by SERE to return to safety.

Chorpeninng pops the illumination end of a MK-124 marine smoke and illumination signal, at Saylor Creek Bombing Range, Idaho, Sept. 26, 2019.

(US Air Force photo by Airman Antwain L. Hanks)

Chorpeninng pops the illumination end of a MK-124 marine smoke and illumination signal, at Saylor Creek Bombing Range, Idaho, Sept. 26, 2019.

(US Air Force photo by Airman Antwain L. Hanks)

Chorpeninng pops the illumination end of a MK-124 marine smoke and illumination signal, at Saylor Creek Bombing Range, Idaho, Sept. 26, 2019.

(US Air Force photo by Airman Antwain L. Hanks)

The US Air Force’s main missions are to take care of airmen and enhance readiness. SERE accomplishes just that and will continue to with the ever changing environment these men and women might find themselves in.

“SERE is constantly adapting,” said Staff Sgt. David Chorpeninng, 366th FW SERE specialist. “We are continuously implementing new technology and tactics to increase survivability in the future.”

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

Articles

Where Are They Now? An update on the “Taliban 5” exchanged for Bowe Bergdahl

The Taliban Five are not the reigning champions of Afghanistan’s Got Talent. They are five long-term prisoners held by the United States at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. In a controversial move, the Obama administration released the five in exchange for Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl in a deal struck by the Emir of Qatar in 2014. Bergdahl had been held by the Taliban for five years.


The Taliban Five were among those the Administration deemed too hot to transfer to prison on the U.S. mainland, but not hot enough to remain in Gitmo. This is our rundown on where they came from, and an update on where they are these days.

Mohammed Fazl: Deputy Defense Minister in Afghanistan under the Taliban and senior military commander in the North during the American invasion. He was outside of Mazar-e Sharif when the prisoners of war held there revolted against their Northern Alliance captors. The Obama administration’s review of his case in 2010 says he may have been responsible for CIA agent Mike Spann’s death at Mazar-e Sharif. Spann was the first American killed in Afghanistan. Fazl is also responsible for killing ethnic minorities in the country and is connected to the killing of Iranian diplomats.

Norullah Nori: Nori was with Mohammed Fazl at a fortress near Mazar-e Sharif in Northern Afghanistan and may have been involved in Spann’s death. He is also responsible for massacring Shia Afghans, something he admitted to while at Gitmo.

Abdul Haq Wasiq: Wasiq was the head of Taliban intelligence and is responsible for torturing and murdering Afghan civilians. He is connected to al-Qaeda.

Khirullah Khairkhwa: Khairkhwa was the governor of Herat province under Taliban rule and was in close contact with Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar. It is believed he helped found the Taliban in 1994. He met with officials from Iran and was a friend of former Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

Mohammed Nabi Omari: A Taliban official who helped smuggle weapons into Afghanistan after the American invasion, Omari is connected to both the Taliban and the Pakistan-based terror group the Haqqani Network. While in captivity, Omari was deemed a risk to his captors.

In 2014, the five were transferred to Qatar in exchange for Bergdahl and are being monitored by the Qatari and U.S. security services, according to the Omani Tribune. The Obama Administration demanded strict monitoring as part of the deal because the first time the U.S. released a Taliban POW, Abdul Qayyum Zakir (released by the Bush administration in 2007), he returned to Afghanistan to continue fighting Coalition forces, eventually becoming the overall Taliban military commander.

He has not yet received his reward of a U.S. military drone strike.

Yet.

The five are also currently fighting a travel ban with the government of Qatar, who are under pressure from the United States to help keep the five men from posing a threat to Americans or American interests.

According to CNN, the men will remain in Qatar under house arrest, until long-term solutions can be made. Where they want to go is unclear, as neither Pakistan or Afghanistan will take them. Some believe Fazl would likely attempt to join ISIS if he leaves Qatar, while two others want to rejoin the insurgency in Afghanistan.

Taliban negotiators and other representatives of the Afghanistan-based insurgent group are based in Qatar, where their every need is met in wealth and splendor. Until the world figures out what to do with the five, they will remain in Doha’s lap of luxury, with other Taliban diplomats.

NOW: 17 Laws every Taliban militant needs to follow

OR: 4 of the most famous deserters in U.S. military history

Articles

Christmas wish list? The last original P-51 Mustang is up for sale

Well, if you have an extra $4.5 million, you can get yourself the last plane of its kind.


We’re talking an original P-51 Mustang fighter, with all the armor plate and no restoration. Any World War II buff could tell you that this plane was a scourge to the Nazis over Europe. But it also saw action in the Pacific, where it dropped bombs on enemy forces during the Korean War — and even saw combat action over two decades after the end of World War II.

According to a report by aerodynamicmedia.com, the Mustang in question, a “D” model, formerly served with the Guatemalan Air Force until 1972. Aviation historian Joe Baugher notes that the Guatemalan Air Force then sold their surviving planes to Don Hull.

The P-51D was equipped with a Rolls Royce Merlin engine, and was armed with six M2 .50-caliber machine guns. It could carry up to 2,000 pounds of bombs (Baugher notes that the Mustang started out as a dive bomber designated the A-36).

With a range of up to 2,300 miles, this plane could stick with heavy bombers like the B-17 Flying Fortress and B-24 Liberator on their missions deep into Nazi territory – and B-29 Superfortresses over Japan.

Since 1983, the P-51 up for sale has been stored in Texas. The company marketing it, Platinum Fighter Sales, notes that it also has “approximately 20 Merlin engines and tons of Merlin spares including Transport Heads and Banks. Also included are several containers worth of P-51 airframe parts.” The parts are reportedly either new or zero-timed. One thing is missing: The six M2s do not appear to be in the wings.

In short, you now have the chance to fix up and fly a legend of World War II that also honorably served for another 18 years. With World War II planes becoming rarer and rarer, this plane – and the haul of spare parts – could be a huge bargain at the asking price.

MIGHTY CULTURE

Social credit and the Chinese military: counting the PLA’s troubles?

‘If you’re a soldier in China, applying to leave the army is likely to leave a black mark on your social credit score.’ This was the striking opening line of a Sixth Tone article from April 2018 reposted on the Chinese military’s official website. The article was about the use of a social credit system by the People’s Liberation Army. However, it garnered surprisingly little attention for such a hot topic.


Excellent research has already been done on the various prototype social credit systems in China, but a big gap in that research is the question of how a social credit system might be applied to the PLA, particularly at a time when President Xi Jinping and the Chinese Communist Party are increasingly concerned about the military’s loyalty to the party.

The 2015 Chinese defence white paper stated that the PLA is enjoying a period of strategic opportunity and can therefore modernise through ongoing reforms. However, China has faced growing domestic and international criticism and pushback in recent months. The CCP is trying to put out fires on multiple fronts: continued freedom-of-navigation operations in the South China Sea; a slowing economy; crises in Hong Kong, Xinjiang and Taiwan; and the coronavirus outbreak.

The PLA is being pushed to be combat-ready as soon as possible, but military reforms haven’t been welcomed across the board. Changes in promotion structures, preferences for highly skilled labour and a new focus on high-tech joint operations have challenged the ways in which the PLA has operated for decades. However, the party’s longstanding battle to ensure that its army is loyal to it is an increasing priority under Xi, and the CCP continues to emphasise that the party controls the gun: 党指挥枪 (dang zhihui qiang). Under Xi, disloyalty to the party has been made illegal in order to protect the CCP’s power.

In the light of that threat perception, the PLA version of a social credit system seems to be a new tool for punishing betrayal, dissuading dissent and rewarding allegiance to the military.

The Sixth Tone article reports that 17 military personnel were ‘blacklisted’ in China’s social credit system in Jilin City and restricted from travelling by air and rail and from seeking civil service employment. Their names and addresses were posted in Chinese news articles and on the WeChat account of the Jilin City military recruitment office. They apparently ‘lacked the willpower to adapt to military life’. According to the article, they were prohibited from taking out loans and insurance policies and banned from enrolling in educational institutions for two years.

Similar examples have been reported in other provinces, where one-off punishments such as fines have been accompanied by permanent ones. For instance, two men in Fujian Province were punished by having their registration documents permanently marked with a note that read, ‘refused military service’.

More recently, in March 2019, Weihai City prefecture in Shandong published its own ‘Implementation Plan for the Evaluation of Personal Credit Scores in the Field of National Defense Mobilization’, which outlined how a social credit record could be used as both a carrot and a stick in domestic military matters. Punishments were listed for those deemed to be acting against national defence interests.

China’s 2019 defence white paper and other government documents state that ‘China’s national defense is the responsibility of all Chinese people’, so punishments for disloyalty aren’t directed solely at soldiers but also at civilians.

Until Xi’s reforms, the PLA was left to set and manage its own institutional priorities, but now it has to address corruption and tackle vested interests to take the military modernisation program forward. It seems that the application of a social credit system in the military is a potential additional measure to enforce strict compliance with new military guidelines.

The social credit system, which both co-opts and coerces, might also be used as a recruitment tool as the PLA competes against China’s private sector for highly skilled graduates. Weihai City’s system not only rewards those who join or extend their service in the military with bonus social credit points for them and their families, but also punishes those who do not.

Weihai’s military-related social credit system is integrated into the city’s ‘credit joint disciplinary mechanism’. Those who contribute positively or negatively to national defence have points added to or deducted from their personal records. Credit records are reportedly correlated with overall credit ratings, from AAA (integrity model) to D (dishonest). The repercussions of dissent extend beyond the soldier to his or her immediate family members. The naming and shaming is also becoming ever more public: transgressions are announced not just on government websites (such as the local military recruitment offices and the prefecture’s Credit China website), but also on social media accounts.

The link between Weihai’s social credit score and national defence suggests that the PLA is also more concerned about its ability to mobilise the military in a national crisis than previously thought. If Xi’s anticorruption campaign was also a tool to address the CCP’s control over the military, then the targeting of those in PLA logistics roles further suggests a concern in the military’s leadership about the force’s ability to mobilise when needed.

Just as a civilian social credit system might be used by the party-state to incentivise or force individuals, companies and other entities to ‘act in line with policies, directions and will of the CCP‘, the military equivalent could be used to similar effect in the PLA.

It’s important to note that the PLA’s experience with social credit is based on isolated pilot projects and not a complete institution-wide program. However, the published examples indicate that those projects might be a strong indicator of a future system by which the PLA’s leadership ensures that the PLA remains the party’s army.

This article originally appeared on Real Clear Defense. Follow @RCDefense on Twitter.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Under secretary of the Navy works to strengthen Norway alliance

Under Secretary of the Navy, Thomas Modly, completed a three-day partnership-building visit to Norway, Dec. 12, 2018.

Modly met with senior military and civilian officials to discuss security and stability issues and efforts along with touring some of the Norwegian assets and facilities.

Meetings were held with the U.S. ambassador, State Secretary of Defense, Chief of Royal Norwegian Navy, Commander of Norwegian Defense Liaison Office, members from the Royal Norwegian Air Force, Army, Navy, and U.S. Marines on rotation to Norway.


“The U.S. and Norway share a very close military relationship and collaborate on many global, regional and bilateral issues,” said Modly. “Being able to see it first hand was impressive and helped underscore the enduring value of investing in cooperative security relationships.”

During his visit, Modly toured a Royal Norwegian Navy Skjold class Corvette and Fridtjof Nansen class frigate and the facilities at the Marine Corps Pre-Positioning Program-Norway (MCPP-N).

Royal Norwegian army Lt. Col. Stein-Arlid Ivarrud, left, commanding officer of the Norwegian Defence Logistics Organization-Marine Expeditionary Brigade, and Under Secretary of the Navy Thomas Modly shake hands after a briefing on Norway’s continued support to the U.S. Marine Corps Pre-Positioning Program-Norway.

(U.S. Navy photo by Cmdr. Paul Macapagal)

“By working together with one of our closest allies, we create force multipliers that enhance our capabilities and build a better understanding of each other,” said Modly. “I look forward to fostering this relationship through our Navy and Marine Corps team.”

On his final day, Modly had the opportunity to have lunch and a discussion with some of the U.S. Marines from the Marine Rotational Force — Europe.

Royal Norwegian Navy Cmdr. (SG) Iris Fivelstad, right, commanding officer of the Fridtjof Nansen-class frigate HNoMS Otto Sverdrup (F312) explains bridge operations to Under Secretary of the Navy Thomas Modly during a tour of the ship.

“Marine training in Norway improves cold weather and mountain readiness in Artic conditions,” said Modly. “It also enhances interoperability between U.S. And Norwegian forces. Our marines are getting great training and building enduring relationships with their Norwegian partners.”

Modly is on a multination visit to the European region focused on strengthening partnerships and cooperation in support of the second line of effort of the National Defense Strategy: Strengthening Partnerships and Alliances.

This article originally appeared on the United States Navy. Follow @USNavy on Twitter.

MIGHTY CULTURE

Is Putin the richest person in the world?

While many a news outlet regularly reports when Jeff Bezos and Bill Gates flip-flop as to who is the richest person in the world, with Bernard Arnault and Warren Buffet nipping at their heals, as we previously noted in our article on the richest people in history, Bezos and Gates’ combined wealth barely matches that of the known fortune of former Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi who ruled over that oil rich country for over three decades before being ousted and then killed in 2011. So how wealthy was Gaddafi? In the years since his death, so far nearly $200 billion dollars have been found in secret accounts, real estate holdings, and other investments directly belonging to him. No matter whether he acquired it ethically or not, assets are assets, and Gaddafi had the most of any known person so far this century by a huge margin.

Another individual who has more or less ruled a petroleum-rich nation for about two decades now is likewise rumored to secretly have a net worth in excess of $200 billion. We are, of course, talking about Vladimir Putin. But is Putin actually the richest person in the world, or are these just rumors?


To begin with, as you might imagine being born in the Soviet Union in 1952, Putin didn’t exactly start out life in the lap of luxury. In a bit of 1950s-era role reversal, his father was a cook and his mother a factory worker. Putin himself would grow up to join the KGB in 1975 working a variety of positions with that institution over the years. While you might envision Hollywood spy type scenarios were his daily life, in fact, according to journalist and biographer Masha Gessen, “Putin and his colleagues were reduced mainly to collecting press clippings, thus contributing to the mountains of useless information produced by the KGB.”

Putin in the KGB.

The first rumor that Putin was using a government position to stash away quite a lot of money for his own personal gain came in the early 1990s when he, in his then position as head of the Committee for External Relations at the Mayor’s Office in St. Petersburg, allegedly helped broker a million deal to acquire various food supplies for the city. In a nutshell, various companies were granted permits that would allow them to supply a huge amount of materials to foreign entities, and in exchange would be given an equivalent value back in foodstuffs to then be used within the famished city. The thing was, as far as anyone can tell, while the companies did send out the materials, no foodstuffs came back in return. The matter was ultimately investigated by one Marina Salye at the behest of the city council, with Salye in turn claiming Putin’s signature could be found authorizing the deals.

She states, “The raw materials were shipped abroad but the food didn’t materialise. There’s 100% proof that in this Putin was to blame. As a result in 1992 – when there was no food at all – the city was left with nothing. The evidence I have is as solid as it gets…. Putin – well, his committee – made bartering contacts to get food for the city. He issued licenses. And commodities – wood, metal, cotton, heating oil, and oil – flew out of the country.”

That said, while she states Putin was to blame and, at least according to her, she had definitive proof, she did not find any evidence that Putin had received anything in return for the apparently botched deals. As for Putin, he claimed the companies that had been given the export permits in the deal were to blame for foodstuffs not coming back as they were supposed to have- implying that Putin had no knowledge the deals wouldn’t be completed as originally brokered when he issued the licenses.

The city council would move forward with further investigation, but ultimately Mayor Anatoly Sobchak put a stop to it and the matter was dropped. While you’ll read in many outlets reporting this story that Salye would die of so-called natural causes mere weeks after she made these accusations and the investigation was killed, in truth she would go on to help found the Free Democratic Party of Russia and more or less continually rail against Putin to anyone in the media and public who would listen, until eventually giving up in 2000 after the election and moving to the countryside. There she lived until her death at the age of 77 in 2012, though she did give a handful of interviews during that span, still unabashedly anti-Putin.

A portrait of Marina Salye during the 2012 Protests after the 2011 Russian elections.

As for Putin, from that 1992 political position, he worked his way up to becoming one of a trio of Deputy Prime Ministers, and was known to be Boris Yeltsin’s preferred successor, despite before this being a relative unknown among the wider public. Ultimately he did indeed become president in 2000 after winning the majority vote.

Once elected, Putin, like his predecessor, reported his finances and holdings publicly, including his salary and exact amount in his many bank accounts. He has continued to do so since. The result? Over the years while his salary has changed regularly from year to year, he has made approximately 0K-0K annually in that span, for example in 2018 reporting an income of 5K. Today between his wife’s and his own accounts, the couple seem to have a little over a half a million in cash in various bank accounts, though why he isn’t investing this is rather curious given his apparent lack of any other investments and almost complete lack of actually needing any cash for his day to day life given the government foots the bill for most everything. Of this, Putin states, “Honestly speaking, I don’t even know what my salary is. They deliver it to me, I take it, put it my bank account and don’t even count it…”

As for his other assets, he also owns a studio sized apartment in Saint Petersburg, a slightly larger apartment in Moscow, owns a small garage, a couple cars, a small plot of land outside of Moscow, and otherwise has various minor assets of no great worth.

Of course, over the years people can’t help but notice that Putin has a collection of watches he wears very publicly whose purchase price combined is around that of his reported entire net worth, ringing in at about 0,000-0,000 if various reports are to be believed. For reference, the highest valued watch he has been spotted wearing costs around 0,000- a Patek Philippe Perpetual Calendar watch.

On top of that, the clothing he can often be seen wearing is likewise extremely expensive, such as his 00+ tailored suits from outlets like Kiton and Brioni. Not just expensive suits, in one photo of him working out, Putin can be seen wearing sweatpants that cost over id=”listicle-2641610333″,400 a pair, apparently made from silk, cashmere and the tears of impoverished children, along with a similarly priced top.

Giphy

On top of that, among other mansions, he is long rumored to own an estate known as “Putin’s Palace” near Praskoveevka, widely reported to be worth id=”listicle-2641610333″ billion by media outlets. However, this was actually sold in 2011 to one Alexander Ponomarenko, a former associate of Putin’s, for somewhere around 0 million. (Note, the exact amount has not been publicly disclosed, but Ponomarenko has indicated it’s in the ballpark of that widely reported figure.)

Ponomarenko purchased the estate from a group led by businessman Nikolai Shamalov. Ponomarenko claims he decided to buy the company behind the estate project, and thus the mansion, as it was a steal of a deal owing to the project being stalled from lack of funds to complete the estate and the business group wanting to cut their losses on it rather than complete it.

That said, Russian businessman Sergei Kolesnikov, who is exiled from Russia, claims the palace was built specifically for Putin’s use. He claims Putin was able to afford its construction in part thanks to a gift given him by the aforementioned Nikolai Shamalov in the form of 94% of the shares in a company called Lirus Holding. Among other personal knowledge of the development of the palace, Kolesnikov claims Shamalov himself told him this and, to quote him, “I have no reason not to believe (him).”

However, no documents concerning any ownership connected to the project seem to indicate Putin, or any holdings of Putin’s, ever were directly involved with this estate. That said, some contract documents concerning its construction allegedly have the signature of one Vladimir Kozhin, one of Putin’s inner circle of confidants. Of course, this still doesn’t definitively indicate whether Putin actually owned the palace or even was behind its building at all- simply, allegedly someone he is close to was involved in some capacity and later someone else he is close to bought it- a bit of a theme for a lot of these rumors.

Putin himself denies he had anything to do with the palace being built. Nevertheless, Putin allegedly frequents the palace and Federal Protective Service guards have been seen at the mansion, along with locals reporting seeing Putin in the area regularly.

Of course, among the extremely wealthy with such mansions, it’s not uncommon at all to allow friends to guest in one’s estates whenever they please, so Putin would not have to actually own the thing to stay there, nor would it be a big ask to do so- more or less par for the course among the exorbitantly wealthy.

That said, on top of all this estate, Putin has been connected to causing to have had built or secretly owning several other mansions, yachts, planes, etc.

Whether he actually owns any of these or, like Putin’s Palace, seemingly is just using them when he pleases, his flashing of extreme wealth in the case of his watches and other such items, along with an awful lot of not implausible allegations of widespread corruption within his government connected to him, has led to the belief that he has boatloads of money secretly stashed away in accounts throughout the world.

Giphy

Others speculate Putin is simply using the government coffers to finance all these extravagances. For many items, this would not actually be that uncommon for a major world leader, if a lot more excessive than most. For example, the replacement Air Force One planes the U.S. President will soon have at his disposal has a budget of over billion. The U.S. President also gets a pretty posh mansion (The White House) and vacations spots to go to at their leisure with the tax payer footing the bill for quite a lot of such perks with few batting an eye at this.

But, of course, the U.S. government isn’t funding 0,000 watches for the President (though bullet proof tailored suits occasionally worn by the president are presumably paid for by the U.S. taxpayer. To attempt to clarify these items, requests have been made to the Russian government asking if, for example, Putin’s watches are actually his or property of the state that he is just wearing, but no answer to this question has been given that we could find.

Whatever the case, yet others claim Putin is simply enriching many people around him and it is they who are then happy to provide Putin with anything and everything his Judo-master heart can desire.

Yet others claim it is all three- Putin is enriching himself through shady means and using government funds and people he is helping make wealthy to get whatever he wants while he’s in office.

But the question of the hour is not whether Putin’s net worth is more than he is letting on- that is very apparently true by his watch collection alone, whether he purchased them or they were gifted. The question of the hour is whether he is secretly the richest person in the world with a net worth in excess of 0 billion as so many claim.

So what does the man himself say about all these rumors? “I am the wealthiest man, not just in Europe but in the whole world…”

Case closed, right? He admitted it! Well, in truth, he wasn’t finished talking. He goes on, “I collect emotions. I am wealthy in that the people of Russia have twice entrusted me with the leadership of a great nation such as Russia. I believe that is my greatest wealth.”

Of course, whether he collects emotions or not doesn’t inherently negate the first part of that statement, simply that he considers that a greater wealth than whatever he has possession-wise.

Argue amongst yourselves whether this was Putin cleverly admitting to being the wealthiest person in the world while making it seem like he was saying he wasn’t, and also simultaneously admitting he’s a Lizard Person given a hallmark of these creatures is apparently feeding on human emotions… ?

For a more direct answer to the question about the rumors of his extreme wealth, he clarifies, “It’s just chitchat, nonsense, nothing to discuss… They picked it out of their noses and smeared it on their pieces of paper.”

The Press and Information Office of the President of the Russian Federation’s also asserts of these rumors, “This information has no substance. As you may know, the declarations of Mr. Putin’s income and property are published annually… We recommend you to use only reliable sources henceforward and not to believe fake news in 2018.”

Naturally, nobody seems satisfied with these assertions given his apparent and frequent flashing of wealth far beyond what anyone with his salary should be able to afford.

So what do others who might know a little more say? First, we have political analyst and noted critic of Putin Stanislav Belkovsky who claimed to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism in 2012 that Putin had net worth of approximately billion, though how he came up with this figure isn’t exactly definitive nor inspiring confidence in his hard knowledge here. In his own words, “The figure of billion emerged in 2007. That figure could now have changed, I believe at the level of -70 billion…. Maximum we cannot know. I suspect there are some businesses I know nothing about.”

Mildly more concrete, at least in terms of given something more specific, he also claims much of this wealth is because of Putin’s alleged 4.5% stake in Gazprom, 37% stake in Surgutneftegas, and allegedly 50% ownership of Gunvor. How he knows this, however, isn’t fully clear. Belkovsky simply states he got this information through sources he has within the companies. It’s also noted that for a time Gunvor was co-owned by a friend of Putin’s, billionaire Gennady Timchenko.

So what do the three companies say? For whatever it’s worth, Corporate Affairs Director of the Swiss-based Gunvor Group, Seth Thomas Pietras, states, “President Putin has never had any interest in, investment in, or involvement with Gunvor Group either directly or indirectly… Mr. Belkovsky’s claims are based on absolutely nothing and are fundamentally ridiculous. And the U.S. government, despite its statement has never sanctioned Gunvor in any capacity, nor has it provided any evidence of its own.”

Moving on to Surgutneftegas, they likewise deny Putin owns any shares.

Gazprom, which is majority owned by the Russian government itself, with the rest of the stock publicly traded, likewise shows no records of Putin owning any shares.

Belkovsky counters these denials by the companies and lack of records stating Putin has a rather elaborate network of off-shore companies and funds that own the shares, which all ultimately mask that he himself actually owns, or at least, controls them.

Moving on to the CEO of Hermitage Capital Management, Bill Browder, he is the one that seems to have started the widespread rumor that Putin’s personal wealth is in excess of 0 billion, stating before a Senate Judiciary Committee

I believe he is worth 0 billion. The purpose of the Putin regime has been to commit terrible crimes in order to get that money…He keeps his money in the West and all of his money in the West is potentially exposed to asset freezes and confiscation. Therefore, he has a significant and very personal interest in finding a way to get rid of the Magnitsky sanctions.

On this latter note, one of Browder’s former associates, Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, was investigating corruption within the Russian government and allegedly found evidence of various Russian officials taking part in a near quarter of a billion dollar tax fraud scheme. Magnitsky himself was then arrested for allegedly being the mastermind behind the tax fraud, and died while in jail before his trial. At the partial encouragement of Browder, the U.S. then passed the Magnitsky Act in 2009. In an oversimplified nutshell, this allows the U.S. government to sanction various individuals thought to be human rights offenders, ban them from entering the U.S., and more importantly freeze their assets where the government is able. The bill was essentially meant to allow the government to legally hold somewhat accountable those thought to have been involved in Magnitsky’s death.

As for hard data, however, Browder offers little.

Next up, noted economist Anders Aslund, author of the book Russia’s Crony Capitalism: The Path from Market Economy to Kleptocracy, states, “I would estimate that Putin is worth around 0-160 billion. We can see that Putin and his friends have taken -15 billion from Gazprom every year since 2004. That’s just Gazprom. There are large numbers of transactions being made… What’s much more difficult is to see where the money goes. It’s typically Cyprus, Cayman Islands, British Virgin Islands and Willmington, Delaware…”

(Kremlin.ru)

As to how he came up with these figures, he states, “My assessment is that since Putin’s circle got its looting fully organized around 2006, they have extracted -25 billion a year, reaching a total of 5-325 billion, a large share of the Russian private offshore wealth. Presuming that half of this wealth belongs to Putin, his net wealth would amount to 0-160 billion. Naturally, Putin and his cronies cannot enjoy their wealth. It is all about power. If they are not the wealthiest, they fear they will lose power.”

Why he assumes Putin would get half of these alleged amounts instead of some other percentage isn’t fully clear.

On that note, like so many before, nobody seems to be able to actually offer hard evidence that Putin has any money stashed away anywhere not publicly known, which when talking sums of allegedly 0 billion, is a pretty neat trick for someone who has been so highly scrutinized, including by the U.S. Senate, who presumably if they wanted could just ask the CIA or other entities good at collecting such data to look into it. Given, instead, they are asking the likes of Browder, it has been presumed and widely claimed, that the CIA and other such government entities have no definitive intelligence on this either.

From this lack of a paper trail directly linking money or assets to Putin, yet his clearly lavish lifestyle indicating he does indeed have access to an awful lot of money, this has led many to conclude that Putin himself doesn’t actually officially own most or all of the wealth attributed to him, but rather he is leveraging his position and connections to enrich those close to him who, in their gratitude, are then more than happy to provide Putin with any money or items he wants, from access to mansion to yachts to sweatpants that keep his Judo-jubblies ultra comfortable when working out.

As alleged evidence for this, we turn to 11.5 million documents from the Panama Mossack Fonseca law firm made public in 2016, dealing in off-shore holdings by over 200,000 entities. While Putin himself is not listed in any of them, the documents do reveal three close associates of Putin’s among those having off-shore holdings partially managed by the law firm, with a combined amount of around billion between the trio.

Despite not owning these assets, there are many claims by various individuals that Putin uses some of these like his “personal bank account”, most notably the holdings of a man claimed by many in the media as Putin’s best friend- famed Russian musician and conductor Sergei Roldugin. Not just a friend, Roldugin is also the godfather to one of Putin’s children and was the man who introduced Putin to Putin’s wife.

As for where Roldugin supposedly got his extreme wealth, beyond his noted music career, starting in the 1990s Roldugin began investing in various oil and other business entities, to great success. Beyond all of this, in 2019, Roldugin also was accused of being involved in a massive multi-billion dollar money laundering scheme in conjunction with Sberbank CIB, which allegedly profited him greatly.

That said, for those using these records as proof of Putin having money elsewhere via his associates, it should be again noted these are the records of well over 200,000 entities throughout the world. And the vast majority who are using the firm are doing so completely legitimately, including actor Jackie Chan who reportedly had six perfectly above board off-shore companies the law firm helped manage various facets of. So that three among Putin’s numerous friends who are exorbitantly wealthy should be included isn’t necessarily proof of anything other than they wanted to have some assets outside of Russia, which isn’t uncommon among the wealthy in Russia. As some formerly close to Putin who have had their assets stripped and forced to flee the country demonstrate, having some off-short holdings is probably a good security blanket of sorts, just in case.

Giphy

On this note, political scientist professor and author of Putin’s Kleptocracy, Karen Dawisha, stated before her death from lung cancer in 2018, “Why is it that 0 billion left the country last year? Because they believe that their wealth can only be secured in the long term outside their own country.”

Coming back to the posed question of whether Putin is secretly the richest person in the world, whether these funds are being held for him or not, this is still not Putin’s money, not just technically, but we’re guessing regardless of the amount of good-will Putin has built up with these various businessmen and women, should he no longer be in power, they might quickly find themselves less than willing to continue to support his lifestyle, if that is what has been happening as is widely believed. And some speculate he might even find himself in a rather unsafe circumstance in that case.

For example, one-time billionaire and the man formerly known as “Putin’s banker”, but now exiled from Russia, Sergei Pugachev, says “Everything that belongs to the territory of the Russian Federation Putin considers to be his. Everything – Gazprom, Rosneft, private companies. Any attempt to calculate it won’t succeed. He’s the richest person in the world until he leaves power.”

As for leaving power, he goes on that Putin chose not to leave office after his first term and beyond, not because of a desire for continued power, but rather because he feared for his own safety should he no longer be in that position. Even today, Pugachev claims, “I don’t see any guarantees for him [if he steps down]. Putin doesn’t see them either,” which is why he finds it unlikely that Putin will ever willingly leave office. Though it should be noted that Putin himself has stated he will not be running for president at the end of his current term in 2024.

Also for whatever it’s worth, Pugachev, despite having billions stripped from himself by the Russian government, being currently in fear for his life, and in exile, states, in his opinion, Putin himself is not evil, nor did Putin originally plan to setup a corrupt government when he took power, simply that, “He surrounded himself with like-minded people whom he didn’t know very well and who had served with him in the KGB. They immediately began enriching themselves….Putin wanted to get rich, too. He was a pragmatic person. We talked about this. He didn’t want to leave office poor.”

As for the Russian government’s position with regards to Pugachev, it is claimed that Pugachev defrauded the government of hundreds of millions of dollars which is why the one-time bosom-buddy of Putin originally had to go on the run.

Pugachev counters, “The state steals something then has to defend its theft. In my case the scale is huge, but in other respects this is a normal contemporary practice in Russia.” This has all left the one-time billionaire with, by his own account, only about million to his name which he kept in off-shore holdings. It must be rough…

In truth, this amount is unfortunate for him because Pugachev allegedly was offered a deal from a Russian official that if he paid 0 million to certain entities, his legal issues in Russia would be made to be resolved to his benefit and he could return to Russia.

Further siding in the camp that Putin doesn’t have hundreds of billions stashed away he officially owns, the aforementioned Karen Dawisha, who perhaps gives some of the best account and most concrete details of the alleged corruption within the Russian government in her Putin’s Kleptocracy book, states that Putin’s real wealth comes from his position. “He takes what he wants, When you are the president of Russia you don’t need a written contract. You are the law.”

Again backing up this position, financial investigator L. Burke Files, states, “Putin controls wealth through proxies.” He then makes up examples to illustrate, “Sergey owes his fortune to Putin, so when Putin asks Sergey a favor, the favor must be honored. A luxury cruise, use of a private dacha, expensive consumer goods, etc….Ivan owns a shipping company and owes his wealth to Putin, so when Putin requests a favor, Ivan— like Sergey—honors the request.”

So, is Putin the richest person in the world? While, as Gaddafi demonstrated, it is possible to squirrel away 0 billion secretly, given the level of scrutiny thrown Putin’s way by governments the world over looking into the matter, with nobody seemingly able to come up with any hard evidence, most think this figure grossly inflated, though it is generally accepted that he probably does have at least some significant amount stashed away somewhere.

For most, however, the explanation for his rather luxurious lifestyle is more reasonably explained by the simple fact that he can pretty much have the Russian government foot the bill for anything he wants without much uproar or oversight. And it does seem like an awful lot of his compatriots have gotten exceedingly wealthy during his tenure at least in part thanks to their connections with Putin and him leveraging his position to help facilitate their enrichment. Thus, if that is what has happened, it’s reasonable enough that many of those are happy to scratch his back whenever he feels the need for a new yacht or the like, without Putin needing to have anything in his name to avoid the backlash that would result should he be discovered to have such.

But as to answering the question of Putin’s own wealth, as the consensus seems to be that most of his wealth is tied up in his position and associates, rather than funds he directly has, it seems a bit of a stretch to call him the richest man in the world, though not a stretch at all if talking the money he currently has strong influence over. His position as President of Russia alone would be enough for that.

And as to the idea that he really does have 0 billion simply being held in other people’s names, as alluded to, we’re guessing even if many of these individuals are actually holding money for Putin, that should he step down from power and ask for that money be given to him en masse, or even remain in power and ask for a combined sum of 0 billion, that shortly thereafter memorials and monuments would be being built for the former Russian leader who sadly died in his sleep of natural causes…

Thus, to sum up, while given his lifestyle and various possessions, Putin most definitely does have access to quite a lot of wealth between the Russian government and a lot of friends in high and wealthy places, when talking his own assets, there simply isn’t any real hard data to date backing up the claim that he is the wealthiest person in the world. And, while not impossible certainly, it would be quite the hat trick to squirrel away a couple hundred billion without any world governments able to find hard evidence that he owns a dime of it. Of course, while some might argue access to vast sums should still count- access is not ownership, even if one can benefit from it on some level.

In the end, unless he really is one of the Lizard People, he’s probably not immortal, so at some point in the next few decades he will shuffle off this mortal coil and, perhaps then, like Gaddafi, more definitive data will be revealed. Or perhaps sooner when he no longer has the protection of his position in 2024, as he is constitutionally unable to run for the presidency that year. Although, of course he could always do as he did in 2008 and take a different position while remaining in power.

Whatever the case, for now, at least, while it is technically possible he does have 0 billion in secret, and even probable that he has drastically more than he is letting on publicly, which isn’t difficult given his paltry public assets for a man in his position, given the current data at hand, the needle is seemingly tilted more towards Gates and Bezos being wealthier than Putin, at least in terms of money and assets they officially own.

This article originally appeared on Today I Found Out. Follow @TodayIFoundOut on Twitter.

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