Monday, March 5, 2018

Costs of Putin’s Syrian Campaign Beggaring Russia

Paul Goble

            Staunton, March 5 – Moscow’s spending on Vladimir Putin’s much-ballyhooed military campaign in defense of Syrian dictator Bashar Asad is leading to enormous cutbacks in its spending on health, education and welfare for the Russian people, according to a new report summarizing the findings of various Russian and international analysts.

            In a 3,000-word article for Radio Svoboda, Elizaveta Mayetnaya and Lyubov Chizova ponts out that the Russian government has classified its spending in Syria but that various Russian and international experts have made calculations, admittedly estimates, on the basis of what has happened that allow for such a conclusion (

            The experts say that there are five basic categories of spending that need to be considered: the air force, cruise missiles, equipment losses, support for personnel, and payments to families of soldiers killed there. In addition, there is the cost for the presence of the aircraft carrier “Admiral Kuzetsov.” Each presents particular difficulties.

            Yabloko analysts say that as of the beginning of this month, Russia has spent on the Syrian campaign between 172.3 billion rubles and 245.1 billion rubles (3.3 billion US dollars and 4.4 billion US dollars).  The question is: is that a lot or a little? And how one answers that depends on what one looks at.

            That amount would be enough to pay for the cleansing of the Volga River for eight years. It would cover three years of spending on the development of culture and tourism. And it is five times more than was spend on Moscow’s cancer program between 2009 and 2014. But it is “six times less” than Putin spent on the Sochi Olympics and 2.7 times less than on the World Cup.

            One of the most troubling problems for those making estimates is the wide range between low estiimates of Moscow’s spending and high estimates, a difference of more than 60 billion rubles (1.1 billion US dollars), the two Radio Svoboda journalists say. Much of this difference reflects differences in assessments of the cost of the Russian aviation campaign.

            In their article, they provide details for each of the five categories they’ve listed as well as for the costs associated with mercenary units and losses among them, figures not included in their overall cost estimates but that will inevitably push the total cost higher.  And they cite expert opinion to the effect that real costs may be 50 percent higher than even the top estimate.

            Aleksey Malashenko of the Moscow Carnegie Center points out that whatever figure was uses, the cost to a country whose GDP ranks 11th in the world is high. And he suggests it is hard to justify not only because of the impact of spending there on spending domestically but also because it is hard to see what Moscow will in the end achieve.

            “When all this began,” he says, “Russian support for Bashar Asad was necessary, for in the Middle East at that time and even now, there was a single choice: either an authoritarian regime or an Islamic State and the terrorism accompanying it.”  But what started as a good idea has become “a heavy boomerang.”

            That is because, Malashenko says, “when Asad leaves, there won’t be a place for Russia there; and it is in general unclear who everything will develop.  The idea variant would be the establishment of some sort of pro-Russian coalition of the coming to power of a new pro-Russian dictator with a different image.”

            But until Russia achieves this – and it hasn’t so far – Moscow is gaining very little from Putin’s Syrian campaign; and the Russian people as always are the big losers, however much Putin talks about victory in his recent speech to the Federal Assembly.

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