KYIV, May 18 – Russia spends up to $5 billion per year to finance breakaway Ukrainian terrifies in Donbas and to fund the war against the country, a Ukrainian official said Monday.
Oleksiy Reznikov, the deputy prime minister in charge of reintegration of the occupied parts of Ukraine, said the figure does not include Russia’s spending on Crimea, a Ukrainian peninsula that has been annexed by Russia in March 2014.
“According to our information, up to $1.3 billion goes to support only the civilian part, such as state employees. And about $3.7 billion goes for the war,” Rezniukov said in an interview with Interfax-Ukraine.
“That is, according to our estimates, it costs the Kremlin about $5 billion a year to maintain the occupied territories of the Ukrainian Donbas,” he said.
Russia has never officially disclosed that it directly finances the breakaway territories of Donetsk and Luhansk, and has vehemently denied its involvement in the war against the central government in Ukraine.
Reznikov said that Russia is secretly tapping its National Welfare Fund, the state wealth fund accumulated for years from oil export revenue, to disguise the spending.
The secret spending numbers underscore an increasing burden on the Russian government that pays for the war in Donbas when global coronavirus pandemic and low oil prices have been depleting Russia’s federal budget.
This may be presenting an opportunity for Ukraine to regain the territories as Russia itself has been experiencing economic hardship and will not be able to afford the war much longer.
“This $5 billion in the current economic downfall is a serious issue. They will be lucky to support their own territory as Russia is not a monolithic state,” Reznikov said. “So, we have a serious, real chance” to regain Donbas.
President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said in February that it will be possible to end the separatist conflict in the east before his presidential term in office expires in 2014.
The conflict in eastern Ukraine erupted in April 2014, weeks after Russia annexed Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula, and has devastated the country's industrial heartland.
The fighting between Russia-backed rebels and Ukrainian troops has killed more than 14,000 people since 2014.
Zelenskiy has expressed willingness to negotiate a peace agreement with Russia, but several contentious issues complicate the peace process, including the rebels’ continued shelling of Ukrainian troops and Moscow’s insistence for elections in the occupied territories must be held before Ukraine regains control over borders between the territories and Russia. (tl/ez)