The bill must cover at least the damage done since 2014, although many Ukrainians would quite reasonably argue that the calculations should include the enormous depredations of the past century, which cost millions of Ukrainian lives.  

Ukraine’s friends in the West plan to organize a huge program of reconstruction, and much — probably most — of the costs should be paid by Russia. Estimates for rebuilding Ukraine’s infrastructure range from a few hundred billion dollars to $1 trillion or more. The longer the fighting continues, the greater the bill for rebuilding — especially if the effort is to “build back better” (greener with modern technology).   

How many Ukrainians have Russians killed under Communist rule and under Vladimir Putin? If we assigned a dollar value to them, what would be the bill? 

The answer is multiple billions of dollars. 

From 2014-2021, around 22,000 Ukrainian soldiers and civilians are estimated to have died as a result of Russian aggression. In addition, Putin’s all-out invasion on February 24 may ultimately cost the lives of another 100,000 (or more) soldiers and civilians; — 22,000 died in Mariupol alone. 

After Russian forces withdrew from Bucha, a town near Kyiv, and from Izyum near Kharkiv, mass graves were found in each location with more than 400 corpses, many showing signs of torture and execution-style killings. The laws of war prohibit willful and indiscriminate killing, torture, enforced disappearances, and inhumane treatment of captured combatants and civilians in custody. Pillage or looting is also prohibited.  

Anyone who orders or deliberately commits such acts, or aids and abets them, is responsible for war crimes. Commanders of forces who knew or had reason to know about such crimes, but did not attempt to stop them or punish those responsible, are criminally liable for war crimes as a matter of command responsibility. 

How much should Russia pay for each Ukrainian killed in Putin’s unprovoked war? Sociologists at Russia’s National Research University Higher School of Economics reported in 2014 that the average value of a statistical life in Russia was about 50 million rubles, or some $1.6 million — a value comparable to that of some developing Asian countries, “The value of a human life in Russia is significantly underestimated,” the Russian scholars concluded in 2014. 

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The reality is that such estimates vary depending on their methodology and sources. Russia’s national insurance agency in 2015 valued a single life at $72,000.  

Another way to see how the Kremlin values life is to see what it pays the families of soldiers killed in Ukraine in 2022. The official sum is the ruble equivalent of $126,000. In practice, however, compensation is much less. A family in Moscow receives three times more than in Buryat or other remote areas that contribute less to GDP and where living costs are lower. For each dead soldier, some regions (federal subjects) get the equivalent of $51,000 per dead soldier; others just $17,000. So long as a soldier is reported missing in action, the family gets nothing.  

Let’s take a set of low, low numbers to get a sense of the bill since 2014. Assume the war continues through December 2022 and takes the lives of 100,000 Ukrainians. To that number add the 22,000 killed between 2014 and February 2022. Add in reimbursement for those wounded and those displaced internally and abroad. (Ask nothing for the 9 million Ukrainians killed under Lenin and Stalin from 1917 to 1953.) 

  • 122,000 killed, @:  $1 million …………………….$122,000,000    
  • 122,000 wounded/incapacitated @ $1 million …….$122,000,000 
  • 12 million displaced @ $0.5 million ……………$6,000,000,000,000   
  • Total damages to human life, 2014-2022 …………$6,000,244,000,000 ($6 trillion and $244 billion) 

Note that the bill will not include grief, PTSD, loss of education, earnings, or of simple human fun. 

The Kremlin should also pay its own subjects for the 80,000 or more soldiers killed or wounded in this senseless war.

Russia could compensate Ukraine as Iraq has done to pay for the $352bn material and human losses caused by its invasion of Kuwait in 1990-1991 — by a tax of at least 5% on its fossil fuel sales. As happened with Iraq, these revenues would be directed to a UN agency set up to receive and distribute these sums.  

For this to happen, however, the Kremlin would have to be managed by a government that recognized Russia’s obligations to compensate those it has harmed. 

Walter Clemens is writing a book Putin and Xi Jinping: How to Deal with Bad Guys. To be published next year.