Kommersant has reported that the Mayor’s Office has scrapped the 2011 Moscow budget funding for Russia’s Black Sea fleet. The fleet is harbored in the Crimean town of Sevastopol in Ukraine. City Hall has traditionally bankrolled numerous international endeavors, ranging from children’s resorts in Bulgaria to sanatoriums in Israel, but the Black Sea fleet was always a flagship program for the previous mayor, Yury Luzhkov.
Luzhkov first began financially supporting the flotilla in 1994 as part of his Moscow-Sevastopol Fund, the declared goal of which was to preserve the fleet after the fall of the USSR. As part of the program, barracks were renovated, schools built for sailors’ children and teachers’ wages paid. The program even funded training missions for the Kerch antisubmarine ship and the Moskva rocket cruiser in the Mediterranean Sea. Funding for the program peaked in 2008, when it reached 160 million rubles. This year, 70.6 million rubles was earmarked for the fleet.
Luzhkov had always made no secret of his desire to see Sevastopol returned to Russian territory. Crimea was transferred from Russian territory to Ukraine as part of the USSR in 1954. Russia currently leases the base from Ukraine. In May 2008, Luzhkov was barred from entering Ukraine because “despite warnings he continued to call for actions that threaten Ukraine’s national interests and territorial integrity,” RIA Novosti quoted Ukraine’s Security Service as saying in a statement at the time.
Kommersant reported Vera Chistova, head of Moscow’s finance department, as saying on Wednesday that the program’s funds had been “ineffectively spent” and “distributed using skewed schemes.”
In August, Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin said that the cutback was reasonable. “Russia releases funds for rearmament so it makes no sense for the city to fund the armed forces,” said Sobyanin. Chistova backed Sobyanin on Wednesday saying that Defense Ministry has “enough resources to support their own military in Sevastopol.”
Konstantin Zatulin, a member of the committee of the State Duma for the CIS and relations with Russian nationals abroad, did not agree, however. “It was a poorly thought-out decision made by perfunctory, soulless people,” said Zatulin. “Is it such a large saving that it will seriously better the lives of Muscovites? They will not notice it, but in Sevastopol it will be very much noticed.”
General director of Political Information Center, Alexei Mukhin, warned that the move would hardly be welcomed by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. “Working with Russian nationals abroad was recently named as a political priority for Russia, and this move contradicts the government’s policies,” said Mukhin. “That’s why after some time they will wind it back, and Sergei Sobyanin may well recommend that such a high status program not be dropped.”