Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Putin Goes to War But Doesn’t Pay Military’s Utility Bills, Leaving Regions in the Lurch

Paul Goble

            Staunton, August 9 – Despite a massive increase in defense spending, the Russian military isn’t paying its bills to regional suppliers of heat, water and electricity, a pattern that creates yet another source of tension between Moscow and the regions and between the military and the people and that raises questions about Moscow’s ability to fight a long war.

            The situation appears to be especially serious in Murmansk, where, according to deputy governor Yevgeny Nikora, the Russian military now owes some 1.1 billion rubles (18 million US dollars) to regional suppliers of water, gas and heat (gov-murman.ru/info/news/179167/ and thebarentsobserver.com/security/2016/08/military-companies-bankrupt-murmansk-left-debts).

            Nikora indicated that the Russian defense ministry had “systematically failed to pay” for these services and that its failure had driven several local firms into bankruptcy, with the result that service has been cut off to the civilian population as well. Such cutbacks are already serious but they will become more critical when cold weather returns to that northern Russian city.

            Because Murmansk is near the Finnish border and because The New Barents Observer’s journalists have been extremely active, more is known about this cavalier attitude on the part of the Russian military there than elsewhere. Nonetheless, there have been sporadic reports of similar problems across the Russian Federation at least outside of Moscow.

            There are real human costs involved in such actions, but there may be a more immediate political “cost” as well.  This pattern gives regional leaders yet another reason to oppose Vladimir Putin’s military adventurism and could under certain circumstances become the basis for the formation of opposition to it behind the scenes.

            If that happens, and any time a policy begins to be discussed in terms not of its goals but in terms of its costs and especially its costs on specific parts of the population, that often is the beginning of the end of unqualified support for it. And thus, the Russian military’s failure to pay its bills is yet another way in which Putin’s war in Ukraine is coming home to Russia.


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