Boris Suvarin, Ezhednevny Zhurnal, 8 September 2008
translated from the Russian by Dave Eseel
South Ossetia has a population of 60 thousand people. Almost all of them hold Russian passports. Strangely enough, who ordered that they should be given them and why is still a mystery. Some say it was A.S. Voloshin [former chief of Russian presidential administration] but he is not being asked to step forward. For his part, he is keeping his mouth tight shut.
Be that as it may, Ossetians, unlike, say, many of the people from the Caucasus living in Moscow, most certainly did not have to pay for their passports. On the contrary, it was Russia which paid for the pleasure.
Over the last 10 years, South Ossetia has received $100 million a year, paid out of the Russian budget. Of course, no accounts for these funds have ever been produced. No one is asking how precisely Mr. Kokoity spent the money – on the needs of his people, of course. That’s clear since no one is complaining, right?
By a rough calculation, that means every inhabitant of South Ossetia has been having fifteen hundred dollars of Russian budget spent on him every year. It’s worth bearing in mind that South Ossetia contributes no taxes to the Russian budget.
Then came the war.
The cost of the military operation was, according to official figures, about $500 million. The restoration of South Ossetia, according to Kudrin [Minister of Finance] in a first estimate, will eat up another $500 million.
We hear that Russia’s gold and currency reserves went down by $16.5 billion during the war. This figure includes the cost to the Central Bank of supporting the rouble, whose value has dropped like a stone. Nonetheless, I do not think it quite fair to include this money in the “cost” to us of South Ossetia’s passports.
The next problem is the recognition of south Ossetia as a country.
Nicaragua has recognised it.
How much that cost the Russian budget is very difficult to say. Also, the Ministry of Finance is hoping that other countries will follow suit.
It is said (and not by Russophobe enemies but by the RBK TV channel) that in the matter of recognition by Belarus A.G. Lukashenko asked for a cool $1 billion loan – not for recognition per se but “just because” – and a reduction in the price it pays for gas which would amount to $200 million.
After that, it will be recognition time for Kyrgyzstan and Tadzhikistan. Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan have been merciful towards the Russian budget with outright refusals to play the recognition game as “not something one drives bargains over”.
I am not asking why Russia is twisting its allies’ arms and turning out its pockets with the whole world watching on and laughing as various countries get to fill their budget shortfalls with recognition money. What are we try to demonstrate or prove by doing this?
It’s incomprehensible. One can only hope that this is some diplomatic magic ritual that the normal mind cannot comprehend.
Doesn’t stop one from totting up the figures, though. So here goes:
• 10 years of maintenance for Kokoity (and the other inhabitants of SO): $1 billion
• The war itself plus the restoration: $1 billion
• Next the most expensive item – the recognition of South Ossetia (or rather recognition of Russia’s right to hand out independence to whomsoever it wishes) by Nicaragua now and in progress by other leading lights of world public opinion such as Belarus, Kyrgystan, Tadzhikistan… Let’s say another $4 billion.
Total – $6 billion.
The population of South Ossetia is, I repeat, 60,000.
It’s easy to work out that the ‘recognition plan’, if it works, means that Russia will have paid something around $100,000 for each one (1) for the right to hand out Russian passports.
But no cloud without a silver lining! It follows from this that the Crimea, at least, is safe from being engulfed: at that price per passport, Russia’s budget can’t cover the cost since the population of Crimea is 2 million. And everyone knows the going rate now.
Only people born in Russia take up and carry Russian passports for nothing. Others will not let Russia off so lightly.
But I don’t envy the Russian taxpayer. The budget spend on the ‘passport for SO’ project will not go to line Ossetian pockets but into the accounts of the likes of Ortega, Moscow generals, and the owners of the constructions firms who amongst other things built ranches in the Moscow countryside for Kokoity and his relatives.
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