Like me, I bet you can’t wait for the Winter Universiade Games in 2019 in Krasnoyarsk. What? You’ve never heard of these games? In truth, neither have I. But the Russian government announced last week that it was planning to spend $492 million to host these games, and the local government in Krasnoyarsk said it would spend another $200 million on them. When the final bills come due, we can expect the costs for these games to balloon into billions of dollars.
For the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia spent more than $50 billion on construction and preparation, most of which went straight into the pockets of Putin cronies. At least people have heard of the Olympics. It will spend billions more to host the World Cup in 2018—and those games are widely known, too. But the Winter Universiade Games? They are organized by the International University Sports Federation and are a multinational sport event for university students. Who knew?
But wait, there’s more. According to a report in the Moscow Times, local authorities in St. Petersburg have decided to divert money that would have gone toward schools and hospitals and instead devote it to the construction of the Zenit football stadium and landscaping around the stadium. The stadium, which will cost more than $600 million to build (landscaping and access roads are additional), is for Russia’s hosting of the World Cup in two years.
The offices of the contractor working on the construction of the stadium, Metrostroy, were raided this week by Federal Security Service (FSB) agents—probably not a good sign. Making matters worse, St. Petersburg officials reportedly asked Russian airborne troops based in the area to help finish building the stadium; they refused.
The spending announcements for the Universiade Games and the Zenit stadium comes at an awkward time for the Russian government. In late May, during a visit to the illegally annexed region of Crimea, Russian Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev spurned pensioners’ pleas for an increase in their benefits. “There just isn’t any money now,” Medvedev explained. “When we find money, we’ll make the adjustment.” Hurrying away, he blurted out “You hang in there. Best wishes! Cheers! Take care!” His callous answers, not surprisingly, went viral.
Earlier this month at a public forum in Dagestan, Medvedev was asked why young teachers there earn significantly less than police. “I am often asked this question about schoolteachers and professors,” Medvedev replied. “[Teaching] is a calling. And if you want to earn money, there are lots of lovely ways to do this faster and more efficiently—like business, for example. But you didn’t go into business, now did you?”
Medvedev’s insensitive and politically tone-deaf answers are bad enough, but diverting funds from schools and hospitals to finance sports venues is really hard to swallow. Equally incomprehensible is spending half a billion dollars on games—the Winter Universiade Games—nobody has ever heard of. When will Russians tire of the games its leaders are playing with them?