Staunton, December 31 – At a time when the Kremlin is closing Russian hospitals, cutting teachers’ pay, reducing pensions, and not building roads, Vladimir Putin spent more than 160 billion US dollars on his two megaprojects of 2014 – the Winter Olympics in subtropical Sochi and the invasion of Ukraine.
That works out to about 1200 US dollars or 60,000 rubles for every man, woman and child in the Russian Federation, an immediate direct cost on each of them and one that does not include the loss of intangible rights and the future loss of even more of both the longer Putin stays in the Kremlin.
This figure comes from adding the widely accepted cost of the Sochi Olympiad – just over 50 billion US dollars – to the figure of 111 billion US dollars – which is the amount of the decline in Russia’s reserves since the start of Putin’s campaign in Ukraine and which Andrey Illarionov says is “the price” of that war (businessweek.com/articles/2014-01-02/the-2014-winter-olympics-in-sochi-cost-51-billion and szona.org/andrej-illarionov-tsena-vojny-111-milliardov-dollarov/).
According to Illarionov, a Russian analyst now at Washington’s CATO Institute, “the loss of 111 billion dollars of reserves in this year is not the result of Western sanctions but is the result of the political decisions of Mr. Putin and the illiterate actions of the Central Bank.” And it is “no small sum,” being 2.5 times what was spent in Sochi.
While many Russians likely felt at the time that the Sochi Games were worth the price, even with all the corruption they entailed, ever fewer do given that whatever bounce in international standing that international competition gave the country was almost immediately irretrievably lost by Putin’s Anschluss of Crimea and his continuing aggression in the Donbas.
There are far more compelling moral reasons to oppose the actions of the last dictator in Europe – and it is Putin even more than Belarus’s Alyaksandr Lukashenka – both in suppressing his own people and unleashing war against his neighbors and the world. But it is often the case that nations turn against their leaders because the geopolitical projects of the latter cost too much.
Over the last 12 months, Putin has imposed an enormous burden on the people of Russia, something ever more of them are certainly aware of and oppose. And in the next 12 months or even sooner, their awareness and opposition of this tragic waste of resources by a country that can ill afford such things will, one hopes on this New Year’s Eve, be the basis for change.