Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Putin’s Words about Lack of Indoor Toilets in Russian Schools Highlight His Failure as a Leader

Paul Goble

            Staunton, February 20 – Other declarations by Vladimir Putin in his speech today will certainly get more ink, but one comment he made about the need for regional leaders to ensure that all schools in the Russian Federation have indoor toilets says speaks volumes about what he has failed to do for the Russian people and why the situation won’t improve on his watch.

            The Kremlin leader told the Federal Assembly that Russian regions, not his government, must ensure that all schools have indoor toilets, yet another handing off of responsibility via an unfunded liability and especially disturbing because of what his “optimization” campaign has meant (

            Russian commentators are suggesting this is a relatively small problem and that Putin’s words shows his concern for the Russian people. They say that only about 1.5 percent of all Russian schools are without indoor toilets. Almost certainly that understates the problem, especially given two factors that they are not inclined to speak about.

            On the one hand, since Putin became president, Russia has closed almost 20,000 schools, mostly in rural areas and generally the ones without indoor plumbing. (It has shuttered 2500 in the last three years alone.) Consequently, the percentage of schools without toilets is small but only because of Putin’s “optimization” (

            And on the other, Putin has spent billions on shows like the Sochi Olympics and World Cup and on military aggression in Georgia, Ukraine, Syria and elsewhere, while allowing people in his own country to go without. Pupils are not the only victims: One in four Russians lacks indoor plumbing (

            Instead of taking personal responsibility for the failure of his regime to do anything about this, a regime that has sucked out resources from the regions even as it has insisted that they bear responsibility for improving conditions, Putin as so often has struck a pose of concern but directed that the regional governments take action.

            Unfortunately, one can be certain that many in Russia and the West will take note of Putin’s display of “concern” for Russian children and not ask why a leader who claims he is in charge of a super power that is rising from its knees has failed to address this problem and even solve it after more than 18 years in power.

            To put Putin’s words in perspective, one need do only two things: consider how often he and his officials have promised in the past to solve things, and imagine the leader of any other modern country, be it Britain, France, Germany or the United States, making the provision of indoor toilets for schools the focus of a national speech at the present time. 

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