Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 2 Issue: 17

Working independently, two Russian journalists have arrived at strikingly similar estimates for the actual cost of the current 1999-2001 Russo-Chechen war. The well-known military correspondent Pavel Felgenhauer wrote in the 26 April issue of the Moscow Times: “Today the war in Chechnya is in its third fiscal year with total costs fast approaching US$4 billion.” “But,” Felgenhauer went on, “even that doesn’t give the whole story. The official exchange rate does not fully reflect the real purchasing power of the ruble, which was grossly undervalued after the sharp devaluation in 1998. The corrected dollar equivalent of all extra-budgetary expenses on the ‘antiterrorist operation’ in Chechnya may be estimated to be at last US$10 billion–a cost Russia can hardly afford.”

Writing in the no. 29 (April 23-25) issue of Novaya Gazeta, economics specialist Boris Vishnevsky has calculated that, during 1999 and 2000, the Russian government spent approximately US$8.8 billion on military activities in Chechnya, a figure which, he notes, exceeds the annual budget for the cities of Moscow and St. Petersburg. Vishnevsky put his calculations in perspective by pointing out that the official Russian federal budget for 2001 is only US$40 billion.

In his Moscow Times article, Felgenhauer also underlined that Russia is rapidly drawing down its munitions reserves. “There has been,” he observes, “no special production of heavy [artillery] shells in Russia for a decade. During the 1994-96 war, officers complained that they were using shells produced in the 1980s. In the present conflict, shells produced in the 1970s and even 1960s have been supplied to the front…. The army is degrading both morally and technically.”