United Russia’s website notes that “meetings with representatives from various industries” began on 15 January and, according to a Novaya Gazeta source, they are far from over. Yesterday, Mr. Leonid Roshal, a member of the Coordinating Council of the All-Russia People’s Front (a prominent doctor, he is a leading stumper for the presidential campaign), spoke at a community center in Tula about the challenges facing the Russian healthcare system and ways to tackle them.
The campaigners adhered to a very tight schedule, visiting as many as two cities per day. They started in the Volga Region, appearing in Saratov and Nizhny Novgorod on 16 January, and in Togliatti the morning of 17 January. Then they went eastwards, reaching Orenburg by the evening of 17 January. On 18 January, they turned west and visited Ufa and Perm. Their next stop, on 19 January, was beyond the Urals, in Yekaterinburg and Chelyabinsk. The rest of the travel schedule was as follows: Khanty-Mansiysk and Tyumen on 20 January, Kurgan on 21 January, Omsk on 22 January, and Kemerovo and Tomsk on 23 January. On 24 January, they addressed young people, healthcare workers and teachers in Barnaul, then, on 25 January, moved to Ulan-Ude and Chita in the Trans-Baikal region. They proceeded on to the Far East, covering Blagoveshchensk, Khabarovsk, Vladivostok, Sakhalin Island, Kamchatka and Yakutsk in just three days, from 26 to 28 January.
The tour across Russia, which spanned from the Volga Region to the Sea of Okhotsk and involved appearances in more than 20 cities, required very fast and reliable transport, and that’s what the pro-Putin team got. Eyewitnesses say that Mr. Roshal and his team travelled the country aboard a private Bombardier CRJ200.
The Bombardier CRJ200 is not, strictly speaking, a business jet and is normally used as a short-haul airliner for regular passenger flights. A baseline configuration can comfortably accommodate up to 50 passengers but, according to Forbes, this particular model is a top-of-the-line vehicle.
The information desk at Kadala Airport in Chita confirmed the arrival of the jet, operated by RusAero. RusAero is one of Russia’s leading air companies, providing a full package of unscheduled air transportation services and handling all kinds of flight arrangements, from slot coordination to hotel accommodations for the crew. According to the company’s website, RusAero handled the arrival of the heads of state, who came to celebrate St. Petersburg’s 300th birthday. Yet the company’s Key Customer Service Department (yes, they have one) refused to confirm or deny any RusAero involvement in organizing the election campaign tour. Later, some sources mentioned that this aircraft belonged to Avcon Jet AG, an Austrian airline company that sells business jets and organizes private charter flights. Yet the Bombardier CRJ200 is not part of the company’s fleet.
According to Novaya Gazeta, one hour of flight on the CRJ200 and similar foreign jets costs about 5,000 Euros. However, chartering such a jet involves many other expenses beyond flight hours. Aircraft parking at airports costs about 1,500 Euros per day, and a heated hangar costs up to 5,000 Euros a day, not to mention crew and maintenance costs, the use of anti-freeze fluid, etc.
Novaya Gazetatried to calculate how much chartering this jet would cost Mr. Putin’s election fund. Assuming that the tour lasted for two weeks and that the campaigners took two flights a day, spending about four hours in the air, while for the rest of the day the jet was stationed in a heated hangar, the expenditures would total 13.5 million roubles. And this amount includes the jet costs only. There’s no doubt that the total cost of the tour was much higher.
It was recently reported that Vladimir Putin’s election fund totals 177.98 million roubles. According to Russian law, the election fund should be the only source of campaign financing (candidates who violate this rule risk being withdrawn from the election), which means that it had to cover the two-week stump tour and specifically the jet costs. And yet, at the moment, the fund has spent only four million roubles. In that case, where did the money come from?
P.S.Representatives at Vladimir Putin’s campaign headquarters refused to comment on the situation. Leonid Roshal declined to comment as well, citing a lack of time.