The Decline Has Gone Uphill

Silhouette figures trying to keep a ten-ruble in the air next to an inscription that reads, "Not everything is in our hands." Petersburg, May 23, 2016. Photo by the Russian Reader
Silhouette figures trying to keep a ten-ruble coin in the air next to a stenciled inscription (left) that reads, “Not everything is in our hands.” Petersburg, May 23, 2016. Photo by the Russian Reader

Russia Level with Kazakhstan in Wages
Maria Leiva
RBC
May 24, 2016

In 2015, the average Russian salary, in terms of US dollars, was equal to the level of wages in Kazahkstan, according to data from the Higher School of Economics (HSE). Compared to 2014, the salaries of Russians dropped by almost a third last year.

The observed decline in wages in Russia has led to their drawing level, late last year, with average wages in Belarus and Kazakhstan in previous years, experts at the HSE have calculated in their May monitoring of the populace’s socio-economic status and social well-being. Computed on the basis of exchange rates, the average wage in Russia last year was $558 a month, which is lower than the 2014 level by 34% or more than a third. By way of comparison, in Kazakhstan and Belarus, the average monthly wage, calculated using the same method, was $549 and $415, respectively.

From 2011 to 2015, Russia had the highest level of wages in the CIS, but in 2014, compared with 2013, it dropped by nearly 10%, from $936 to $847. The experts at the HSE note that the gap in economic performance indicators between Russia and certain CIS countries has been constantly contracting. For example, the average salary in Armenia in 2008 was around 52% of the 2015 Russian wage, but by the end of the period in question, it had grown to 60%. During the same period, Belarus has gone from 61% to 75%, and Tajikistan, from 17% to 26%. However, over the same period, the relative positions of Azerbaijan, Moldova, Ukraine, and Kazakhstan have declined.

If we compare the average wage in Russia and Central and Eastern Europe, the wage in those countries has exceeded the average in Russia for the past five years. Thus, last year, the average Russian wage came to 60% of the average wage in Hungary, and 50% of the average wage in the Czech Republic. However, in 2015, Russia came close to the level of wages in Bulgaria during 2013–2014.

Trends in the average monthly wage in Russia, Brazil, and China over the past five years show that wages in Brazil were higher than in Russia last year. Despite the fact that data on wages in China for 2015 have not yet been published, the figures for Russia in 2015 were lower than for China in 2012, 2013, and 2014, indicating the gradual reduction of the gap between the two countries in terms of this indicator.

Last week, Sberbank also reported a fall in the average monthly Russian wage below China’s average wage. The bank’s principal analyst, Mikhail Matovnikov, cited data that the average monthly wage of Russians had fallen below $450 a month, lower than that in China, Poland, Serbia, and Romania.

Translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to Valentin Urusov for the heads-up.

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Kazakhstan: Land Protesters Face Police Rampage

Kazakhstan: Land Protesters Face Police Rampage
People and Nature
May 25, 2016

Street protests against plans to step up land privatization were broken up by police in many of Kazakhstan’s largest cities on Saturday, May 21. The demonstrations were organized by informal online networks rather than by any of the recognized opposition groups. Here are the key points from a report by Andrei Grishin, published in Russian on the website of the Fergana News Agency.

Special rapid-reaction police detachments attacked small groups [of demonstrators] wherever they gathered. They grabbed everyone, regardless of gender, age and nationality. Dozens of journalists were arrested.

Kazakhstan had waited for the events of May 21 with bated breath. [Protesters had named that as a day of action after a previous wave of demonstrations had forced the government to pull back from planned land reforms. See an earlier report here.] The official media had railed against the protests. And it all ended, as it has so many times before, with the “slaughter of the innocents,” but this time more brutal than usual. The detention of dozens of journalists, including foreigners, was proof of that.

Police detain land protester in Almaty
Police detain protester in Almaty, May 21, 2016

However, for the first time, people came out to protest all at once, in a number of cities and towns, without any leaders, because these leaders had either been arrested in advance, or had agreed to the authorities’ demands [after the previous demonstrations] and joined the [government’s] land commission.

[In Almaty in the southeast, the largest city in Kazakhstan and former capital, the authorities used every possible method of disrupting people’s plans to demonstrate. They created a “terrorism” scare, announcing the discovery of a stash of molotov cocktails, sticks, money and explosives; blocked social media; and issued orders forbidding public sector employees, students and workers in large enterprises from demonstrating, and in many cases, called people into work. Nevertheless, people gathered in small groups at Astana Square and by 11.30 am there were about a thousand of them. The police then went on the rampage, arresting and dispersing people.]

In other towns where activists made attempts to gather in squares or parks, the authorities acted similarly, although the numbers of both demonstrators and police were much smaller than those in Almaty. [There were arrests in Astana, the new capital, whereas things went compariatively peacefully in Kustanai and Pavlodar.]

In any case, no revolution took place! The president of the administrative policing committee at the ministry of internal affairs, Igor Lepekha, announced on Saturday that there had been “no unsanctioned gatherings or conflicts with the police. No breaches of order were permitted.” But at the same time he confirmed the detention of a number of people, including journalists; there had been a “misunderstanding” with the latter, he said.

Nevertheless, even this small number of demonstrations was a new phenomenon in Kazakhstan, in the sense that they started simultaneously in different regions. And all the experts noted in chorus that the land question was just the pretext, that in fact people have all sorts of other issues with the government. And that is really worrying parliament, above all, the fact that people are openly, and quite legally, calling for the resignation of the president.

And so it was clear that the government once again would deal with the problem [of protest] with repression. Evidence of this was the series of criminal cases opened even before May 21 against civil society activists, and the announcement by the internal affairs department of Western Kazakhstan about “preventing mass disorder.”And it is still possible, of course, that the Almaty police will “find” the owners of the molotov cocktails and sticks [i.e. use frame-up tactics against militants].

Police detaining protesters in Almaty on Saturday, May 21, 2016
Police detaining protesters in Almaty on Saturday, May 21, 2016

However at the same time the authorities have treated the land question with great caution, thus the one-year moratorium [announced by President Nazarbayev on 6 May] on the amendments [to the land code], and the establishment of the land commission, and inclusion in it of several “disloyal” civil society activists, and the hints that have been dropped about the possibility that each citizen of the country could be granted by law 1,000 square meters of free land.

Riot police loading protesters onto a bus, Almaty, May 21, 2016
Riot police loading protesters onto a bus, Almaty, May 21, 2016

Just a few days ago, when the government feared the spread of mass action, President Nazarbayev appealed to Kazakhs “not to shame ourselves before the world, but to solve our complicated problems by means of constructive dialogue.”

Despite this talk of “constructive dialogue” from the president, the police special detachments hid firearms in their buses on Saturday. Whether they had plastic bullets, tear gas or live ammunition we don’t know. But thankfully they didn’t open fire on the crowds: bearing in mind the events at Zhanaozen and Shetpe [in December 2011, when police fired on a crowd of striking oil workers, killing at least 16 and wounding at least 60], it seems there was enough sense at the top to order that there be no repeat of that. 25 May 2016.

Greenpeace Russia: The Far East and Siberia Are Burning

I don’t like environmentalists. Most of them are insane fanatics who have been victimized by terrorist organizations like Greenpeace. The sole purpose of such organizations is to troll big corporations and c0untries. 
Ilya Varlamov, popular Russian blogger, May 22, 2016

It Is Too Late to Put Out the Fires in the Far East and Eastern Siberia
Greenpeace Russia
May 23, 2016

Greenpeace Russia and the federal fire detection system have discovered catastrophic fires in Amur Region, Transbaikal Territory, and Buryatia that cannot be extinguished, because the country simply lacks the manpower and resources to do it.

Here are the data from the Russian Federal Forestry Agency’s Distant Monitoring Information System (IDSM) for a single major fire underway in the Shimanovsk, Svobodny, and Blagoveshchensk Districts of Amur Region. According to ISDM, the fire covered an area of 248,000 hectares as of this morning.

Yet, in its morning update, the Aerial Forest Protection Service (Avialesokhrana) mentioned less than 21,000 hectares burning in Amur Region. In total, according to these reports, 65,00 hectares are burning nationwide.

“If current trends continue, 2016 could be the worst year for forest fires since the beginning of the twenty-first century, surpassing the figures for 2003 and 2012 in terms of the size of the forest fires,” says Alexei Yaroshenko, head of Greenpeace Russia’s forestry department.

The area of just one fire in Amur Region is thirteen times larger than the size of the fires listed in the official report for the region and four times larger than all fires reported by officials nationwide.

The size of the remaining fires is difficult to calculate. Smoke prevents satellites from recording hotspots, and experts from viewing burnt black forest. However, according to preliminary estimates, it is also already close to three million hectares. Amur Region accounts for approximately a third of this area, while the rest is roughly evenly divided between Buryatia and Transbaikal Territory.

Such shameless lying in reporting has been observed throughout this fire season. No one will go out to fight fires that do not exist on paper, and this prevents extinguishing fires at an early stage. Now, when it is impossible to do anything, the lies continue.

“We have had problems with divergence [among reported figures] on the sizes [of the fires in] Amur Region, Buryatia, and Chelyabinsk Region, and there have been problems with Irkutsk Region” acknowledged Nikolai Krotov, deputy head of the Federal Forestry Agency. “We do not rule out the fact that political and subjective factors might exist, and information in one format or another is transmitted to the outside world in a different way.”

We should recall that Avialesokhrana’s reports are based on data sent to it by regional authorities.

Can nothing really be done?

Our country has been burning from year to year. Foresters do not have the resources and manpower to put out the fires, while officials do not have the resources and manpower to acknowledge the fires.

“The authority over forest management and firefighting that was transferred to the regions is at best subsidized by the federal budget at ten to twenty percent,” explains Yaroshenko.

Greenpeace Russia demands that foresters be allocated decent financing and released from unnecessary bureaucracy, and that lies about the fires be ended.

How do we calculate the size of fires?

To assess the size of current forest fires, Greenpeace uses MODIS and VIIRS satellite imagery and the FIRMS system for detecting hotspots throughout the entire life cycle of major forest fires.  At the same time, Greenpeace follows State Standard (GOST) 17.6.1.01-83, according to which the area of a forest fire is defined as “the area within the contour of the forest fire where there is evidence of fire’s impact on vegetation,” and Paragraph 67 of the Rules for Fighting Forest Fires, which stipulates that “in cases when burning has resumed within five days in the extinguished sectors of a neutralized forest fire, the fire is deemed to have resumed.”

Translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to Comrade AM for the heads-up. The paragraph highlighted in red, above, has been heavily altered to reflect the actual quotation from Kommersant newspaper article on which it was, allegedly, based.