Staunton, August 17 – Russian regional governments are being asked to come up with ever more money from their own budgets to pay for the construction or reconstruction of stadiums that will allow Moscow to host the 2018 World Cup. To do so, they are being forced to divert money from the construction of schools and hospitals.
Boris Vishnevsky, a Yabloko deputy in St. Petersburg’s legislative assembly, says that residents of the northern capital, who already had taken upon themselves thanks to their regional governments past and present to build the World Cup stadium have now been asked for 2.6 billion rubles (45 million US dollars) more (echo.msk.ru/blog/boris_vis/1821430-echo/).
The only place they think they can get it, Vishnevsky continues, is by making cuts in spending for the construction of schools, polyclinics and hospitals, institutions that have already been hard hit by Moscow’s cutbacks that have been made in favor of rearmament and military actions abroad.
For the last five years, he says, he has repeated pointed out that “the residents of St. Petersburg have already been financing out of their own pockets the construction of one of the most expensive stadiums in the world … Neither the federal center nor Gazprom has contributed a kopeck for this construction.”
Moscow has required the spending as part of an unfunded liability it has imposed on the cities and regions where the international football championship is currently scheduled to be held. Now, as a result, the regions are being forced to put off the construction of schools and kindergartens just so this latest gigantist Kremlin project can go forward.
Vishnevsky says that all his earlier efforts to have the city appeal to Moscow and Gazprom have ended in failure, apparently because the city’s government doesn’t want to get in trouble with the Kremlin and because former governor Valentina Matviyenko promised that Gazprom would not have to pay anything.
“Perhaps,” he continues, “now the reaction of Smolny will be different?” The city administration is under greater pressure as its cuts begin to bite, and there is even an online petition demanding that money for the stadium come from somewhere other than things like schools and hospitals.
“Sports,” Vishnevsky says, “are something remarkable,” adding that he hopes to go to World Cup matches. “But schools, parks and polyclinics are more important. To save on them is impermissible.” He expressed his “certainty that very many Petersburgers” think exactly the same.
The situation the St. Petersburg deputy describes is true in many of the other World Cup venue cities. And it comes on top of what Vladimir Putin calls “the optimization” of public services, a euphemism for drastic cuts in the number of schools, hospitals, and other public facilities.
Just how deep those cuts are and how angry they are making many Russians around the country is reported in an article on the Svobodnaya pressa portal by that outlet’s chief editor Sergey Shargunov who describes the drastic cuts in several regions of the Russian Federation and their human costs (svpressa.ru/society/article/154553/).
As he reports, villages are losing their focal points, children are having to travel by bus to distant schools, and ordinary people are having to wait in ever longer lines at clinics and hospitals, if indeed they can even get to them. Russians are angry at these cuts, he says, even if they have not yet focused their anger on the man responsible – Vladimir Putin.