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Putin’s Palace

The pillars of Russian society—the schools and the military—are crumbling.

Mar 7, 2011, Vol. 16, No. 24 • By REUBEN F. JOHNSON
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Moscow might be able to afford to support its defense sector if the country did not have the export profile of a Third World state. The Russian economy is marked by a near-total dependence on gas and oil export revenues. Twenty years after the fall of communism, as Subbotin notes, Russia still has not figured out how to create an economy that emphasizes the export of manufactured goods (as does China’s), which would bring a stability unattainable in a country whose future is instead a massive bet on the fortunes of world energy markets.

Despite all this, one category of state spending is still given over to wretched excess. Investigative reporters in Russia have amassed suggestive evidence that a $1 billion palace constructed as part of a 180-acre resort complex in the Krasnodar region is a residence built for Prime Minister Putin. The project might have gone unnoticed if photos of the palace had not been published on the website. Activists and a reporter from Sobesednik magazine who attempted to visit the site to take additional photos recently found themselves detained by officers of the Federal Guard Service.

It is quite clear that Putin found the exposure embarrassing even by his own “let them eat cake” standards. This is evidenced by the shell-game of companies involved in the construction, designed to obfuscate who its true owners are, and the not terribly credible denials from the chief of the Office of Presidential Affairs that this palace “has nothing to do with our office or the head of government.”

The only problem is that the same chief, Vladimir Kozhin, had his deputy authorize the construction, Kozhin himself signed the official documents, and a contract obtained by another Moscow paper, Novaya Gazeta, lists Kozhin’s office as one of the parties involved in the project.

So education is being cut to the bone and corrupted, the defense and high technology sectors are starved for investment, and Russian soldiers and airmen are driving and flying antiquated equipment. Russian airbases are famous for not having enough aviation fuel to allow pilots to fly the bare minimum of hours per month needed to maintain proficiency. Yet the Russian prime minister will soon have a Black Sea resort that makes Buckingham Palace look like a Burger King.

No wonder students need a new “Russia in the World” curriculum. It will take no small amount of “patriotic education” to paper over such a grossly unjustifiable misalignment of priorities.

Reuben F. Johnson writes frequently on Russian politics.

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