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Russian President Vladimir Putin awards Federation Council Speaker Valentina Matviyenko with the Order of St. Andrew the Apostle. May 23, 2019.

The honorable offspring of Putin's pals Journalists map the medals awarded to children of Russia's elite, where only three women rank in the top 50

Source: Open Media
Russian President Vladimir Putin awards Federation Council Speaker Valentina Matviyenko with the Order of St. Andrew the Apostle. May 23, 2019.
Russian President Vladimir Putin awards Federation Council Speaker Valentina Matviyenko with the Order of St. Andrew the Apostle. May 23, 2019.

The website Open Media compiled a “ranking of Putin’s medal bearers” — Russians who have received at least half of their state honors, medals, and awards by order of presidents Vladimir Putin or Dmitry Medvedev. 

The rankings sort individuals by the number of honors received. In the case of a tie, priority goes to those who earned merits with higher standing in the state award hierarchy. Because military awards are often bestowed in secret, the rankings don’t include those working in military or intelligence (besides agency heads, who are included).

The top ten:

  1. Evgeny Velikhov, physicist, honorary President of the National Research Center “Kurchatov Institute” (a nuclear energy research facility) (12 awards)
  2. Nikolai Patrushev, Secretary of the Security Council of Russia and former Director of the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) (1999-2008) (nine awards)
  3. Artur Chilingarov, Tula region senator in the Federation Council, polar explorer (nine awards)
  4. Alexander Bortnikov, Director of the FSB since 2008 (nine awards)
  5. Sergey Ivanov, Special Representative of the President of the Russian Federation on the Issues of Environmental Activities, Ecology, and Transportation, former Minister of Defense (nine awards)
  6. Oleg Syromolotov, Deputy Director of the FSB, Russian intelligence officer (nine awards)
  7. Vladimir Resin, State Duma deputy, former First Deputy Mayor of Moscow (2001-2011) (nine awards)
  8. Valery Gerasimov, military general, First Deputy Defense Minister, Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Russia (eight awards)
  9. Vladimir Ustinov, Presidential Envoy to the Southern Federal District, former General Prosecutor of Russia (eight awards)
  10. Valentina Matviyenko, Chairperson of the Federation Council, former Governor of Saint Petersburg (eight awards)

In all, the rankings list fifty people, each with at least six awards. Their average age is 75. Twenty-three of them are politicians or political actors (including figures like Patriarch Kirill — patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church). Nine people come from the art world, five from science and education, another five are siloviki (or security and intelligence officials), three are businessmen, and three work in sports. Only three women made the rankings: Chairperson of the Federation Council Valentina Matviyenko, Russian national team gymnastics coach and President of Russian Rhythmic Gymnastics Federation Irina Viner-Usmanova, and actor and President of the Moscow Art Theatre Tatiana Doronina. 

Here’s what else Open Media found out about state awards in Russia:

Lots of Putin-adjacent people get awards

Among them: the wives of Rostec head Sergey Chemezov and businessman Gennady Timchenko, the sons of Rosneft head Igor Sechin and entrepreneur Boris Rotenberg, Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu’s sister, and the brother and sons of Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev. 

People often receive honors in milestone birthday years, rather than for specific accomplishments

The singer Lev Leshchenko earned the title of “full cavalier” of the Order for Merit to the Fatherland, having received the award at ages 60, 65, 70, and 75 (those lucky enough to receive all four classes of the Order for Merit to the Fatherland achieve “full cavalier” status). Russia’s Liberal Democratic Party leader and State Duma deputy Vladimir Zhirinovsky also received his Orders of Merit to the Fatherland (classes I through III) at milestone ages 60, 65, and 70. The same is true for Valentina Matviyenko, who is also a full cavalier. 

The most expensive medal is the Order of St. Andrew the Apostle

In 2017 the Directorate of the President of the Russian Federation produced a new version of the order that costs just under 1 million rubles (about $13,500). It’s an ensemble that boasts a badge (made of gold and silver), a star (silver), a chain (gilded silver), and a ribbon (silk). Other state awards cost much less. For example, the prestigious Order of Courage often granted to security officials costs just more than 4,000 rubles (roughly $50). 

Awards aren’t just for honor’s sake — they come with tangible benefits

Heroes of the Russian Federation and Heroes of Labor of the Russian Federation get free treatment in state medical institutions and prescription medicine, are granted a plot of land, receive a payment in the amount of 415 percent of their social pension, and are no longer expected to pay their utility bills. The government raises bronze busts of the Heroes of Labor of the Russian Federation (a title bestowed on billionaire Arkady Rotenberg for his efforts building the Crimean Bridge) in their hometowns. 

Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu has instituted more new awards and honors than any other Russian or Soviet leader

He introduced 25 new medals and insignia as head of the Ministry of Emergency Situations, and 54 more as Defense Minister. The awards account for any and all occasions: “For the Promotion of Rescue Matters,” “50 years of the ‘Civil Defense’ Magazine,” or “For Contributions to Congress and Exhibition Activities.” Military and emergency personnel aren’t the only people eligible for such honors: State Duma deputies, singer Joseph Kobzon (who died in 2018) and the first woman in space, Valentina Tereshokova, as well as a contingent of Greater Moscow Circus artists, all landed medals “For Participants in Military Operations in Syria.” 

In 2014, as defense minister, Shoigu instituted a record number of 15 departmental awards

As a comparison, in 1945 during the aftermath of World War II, only ten new state medals materialized in the Soviet Union, and all of them commended actions performed in battle. In 2014, in addition to a medal “For the Return of Crimea,” Shoigu established a medal called the “Artist Grekov” medal, awarding “merit in creating highly artistic works of art in a military-patriotic theme.”

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Summary by Olga Korelina

Translation by Rob Viano