Staunton, October 24 – For the amount of debt relief Vladimir Putin is prepared to give African countries to curry favor with them, Moscow economist Natalya Zubarevich says, he could provide funds for hard-pressed Russians equal to the entire annual budget of much “optimized,” that is, cut, health care of the country’s regions.
In citing Zubarevich’s figures, Nikolay Rybakov, deputy head of the opposition Yabloko Party, notes that once again, as in Soviet times, the Kremlin is “spending billions” on geopolitics; and the supreme leader has forgotten he heads a country where two-thirds of the population is at the brink of poverty or over it” (echo.msk.ru/blog/nikolayrybakov/2525423-echo/).
Indeed, the Yabloko leader continues, Russia today is a country of crumbling roads, housing and other infrastructure and “where all the territory beyond Moscow’s ring road reminds one of Burundi or Sierra Leone.” But Russia’s leader wants to spend money not on solving Russian problems but competing with other powers over countries far away.
And history suggests, Rybakov says, that Moscow won’t succeed in buying friends in Africa. They will still look to the US, the EU and China whose economies will allow them to do more for and in Africa. All this Putin largesse will do is further impoverish and ultimately enrage the Russian people.
Other opposition figures, commentators, and bloggers make similar points, that Moscow is impoverishing Russians without any real chance of achieving the Kremlin’s long-term goals if indeed it has any. The Kasparov portal provides a remarkable collection of these (kasparov.ru/material.php?id=5DB2A42A01C6E).
This response to Putin’s actin is significant for three reasons. First, when people in any country begin discussing foreign policies in terms of their costs for people at home, those policies do not have much support, however much ballyhooed they may be in the media and political establishment.
Second, the costs of actions abroad are especially infuriating to the population when a country’s leaders insist there is no money available for domestic needs, something the Putin regime has been arguing for almost a decade even as it has continued t enrich itself and its immediate supporters.
And third, when the costs of a foreign policy are so publicly proclaimed, it is hard for anyone t ignore them. Had Putin talked about debt relief but not given a number, there would have been less outrage, but by offering one, he unwittingly invited them, even as he displayed his lack of concern and even contempt for the Russian people.