It’s no secret that people are fascinated by the decadent lifestyles of the rich and famous. There's an entire show named for the concept, after all. But the lives led by the wealthiest of Russian oligarchs and their privileged offspring are luxurious to the extreme. And that decadence is now documented on social media thanks to @richrussiankids — an Instagram account that's attracting serious followers and headlines. The anonymously run account, which bills itself as chronicling “the Russian high Instagram empire,” is full of images depicting a truly luxe lifestyle. With its videos of outrageous parties, photos of scantily clad young women, and shots of expensive cars and exotic animals, the account at times seems like it might be a parody or critique of excess and opulence. In one video, a young man driving a Porsche flips around a gold-plated gun to the tune of “Bad Boys,” before hanging it by its trigger from the gear shift.
When reached via email, the person behind the handle, who goes only by Richie Rich or RRK, seems to defend the displays of wealth. “Our lifestyle is ridiculous and Russians are nice and crazy,” RRK writes. RRK's images of that "ridiculous" lifestyle have racked up a huge fan following since the first photo was posted in July 2015. The profile, inspired by the Rich Kids of Instagram account, has more than 286,000 followers to date — individual posts routinely attract thousands of likes. The account's surging popularity comes at a time of economic strife and rising income inequality in Russia. The country's middle class was decimated in the aftermath of the global recession, leaving a huge gap between the poor and the wealthy. According to a report from investment bank Credit Suisse, Russia currently has one of the highest rates of wealth inequality in the world. In 2015, the richest 10% of the country held an astonishing 87% of the wealth, with 70% of that in the hands of just the top 1%. The average middle-class family was worth as little as $19,000. But the country is also home to 90 individuals who are each worth at least $1 billion. “In Russia, the very wealthy have gotten used to displaying their wealth. And so, the market for luxury items is a very strong one,” Thomas Remington, a professor of political science at Emory University and senior researcher at the Higher School of Economics in Moscow, tells Refinery29. He tells Refinery29 by phone that a lot of what’s behind the flaunting of wealth is simple insecurity. “There’s a lot of nervousness about the security of their wealth," he says. The country's elite tend to send their assets, children, and homes abroad. "In general, the Russian population has been operating with pretty short-term horizons. People aren’t sure what is a reliable asset. There tends to be much more short-term behavior and living for today." It’s a sentiment that RRK is behind. "Most of these kids are really smart and intelligent, they just want have fun because they're young," says RRK, who claims that most of the photos come from people he knows personally. When asked what he thinks of showing off wealth, he says he's all for it. “I like that,” he says. “I’m Russian, too.” But he emphasizes that there's more to his compatriots than what meets the highly filtered eye. “Don’t judge people at first sight," he tells us. “Russians have more than vodka and bears. We are crazy cool nation.”