Buggered

rossiya This bankrupt agribusiness was called Rossiya (“Russia”). Photo courtesy of Maxim Kemmerling/Kommersant and Republic

“The Data Leaves Us at a Loss”: A Few Figures That Might Surprise the Kremlin
Yevgeny Karasyuk
Republic
April 4, 2019

“Why on shoes? Why a third? Where did they get these figures?”

Dmitry Peskov, President Putin’s press secretary, responded with questions to journalists who questioned him yesterday about Rosstat’s depressing report for 2018.

According to Rosstat’s study, in which sixty thousand Russian households were surveyed, every fifth Russian skimps on fruits and vegetables. Every other Russian family cannot afford to travel anywhere when they have a week’s vacation, while every fourth family does not have enough money to invite people over to celebrate birthdays and the New Year’s holiday.

And, indeed, the report does conclude that 35% of Russians are unable to purchase each family member two pairs of seasonally appropriate footwear.

“I would be grateful to Rosstat if they clarified these figures. The data leaves us at a loss,” Peskov added.

Meanwhile, there are other figures—lots of figures—that would probably also bedevil the Kremlin if they were aired in public. Let us recall a few of them.

Nutrition
Consumer watchdog Rospotrebnadzor concluded that 63% of deaths in Russia were associated with bad food and poor nutrition. According to official figures, Russians spend approximately 35% of their household budgets on food, while independent researchers put that figure at over fifty percent. However, the average Russian household skimps on all purchases and tries to do without everything it can, claim the researchers behind Romir’s Coffee with Milk Index, which charts the quantities of chocolate, coffee, milk, and bottled water purchased by Russians. Researchers at RANEPA recently described the diets of Russians as unhealthy, unbalanced, and lacking in energy.

Health
According to a report by RANEPA’s Institute for Social Analysis and Forecasting, 22% of Russians who live in straitened circumstances face the stark choice of whether to buy the bare minimum of the cheapest produce or the cheapest drugs, drugs they need to survive. It is typical of Russians, not only those below the poverty line, to postpone going to the doctor, if it involves costs, noted researchers at the Institute for Health Economics at the Higher School of Economics.

Education
According to the pollsters at VTsIOM, fifty percent of Russian parents experience serious financial difficulties when getting their children ready for the first day of the school year. Over the past five years, the average sum of money Russians claim to spend getting children ready for school has increased by sixty percent, rising from 13,600 rubles to 21,100 rubles.

Housing
According to the Construction Ministry, the Russian populace’s debts for utilities and housing maintenance bills have grown by five and a half times since 2015. The ministry reported that, as of the end of last year, the total amount of this debt was 1.2 trillion rubles [approx. 16.34 billion euros]. The rates for water, electricity, gas, and other utilities and services increase rhythmically year after year, and yet the real incomes of Russians have continued to fall five years in a row.

Transportation
Forty percent of Russian car owners “try not to use their own vehicles, taking public transport instead.” Another 22% of car owners follow their lead, but do it less frequently. VTsIOM has explained the outcome of its January opinion poll by citing the concern of Russians for the environment while failing to note that the price of petrol has skyrocketed in recent years. Last year, a liter of AI-95 rose in price three times faster than inflation. The government has resorted to artificial, decidedly non-market measures to depress prices, and yet petrol in Russia is now twice as expensive as it was when the decade kicked off.

Only twelve percent of Russians believe that, when it describes the economy and the social sector, the Russian regime always or mostly tells the truth. The Levada Center has done polls on the same subject since 2010. Russian society’s confidence in what the country’s leaders and senior officials say has never been as low as it is now.

By voicing surprise at Russia’s poverty, at least on paper, the Kremlin is, apparently, determined to convince people it inhabits a parallel reality in which Russia makes one breakthrough after another, and the rank and file enjoy “stability” by way of spiting the country’s numerous enemies. Peskov seemed genuinely puzzled by Rosstat’s claim that Russian families have trouble buying shoes, but he probably had not yet read the government’s report on the increase in mortality rates in every third region of Russia. Clearly, something is wrong with the figures. In short, we expect a reaction.

Translated by the Russian Reader

The Putinist Economic Miracle

As Inflation Soars, One in Five Russians Can Only Afford Bare Necessities
Delphine d’Amora
May 14, 2015
The Moscow Times

Many Russians flocked to stores late last year as the ruble plummeted against the euro and dollar, eager to get the most out of their savings before the prices of imported goods rose.

Nearly 20 percent of Russians can now afford nothing more than the absolute necessities as double-digit inflation erodes their spending power, a survey by consumer research firm Nielsen found.

The figure is a record high for the survey, which has been conducted regularly since 2005. Even in the first quarter of 2009, in the depths of the previous financial crisis, only 4 to 7 percent of Russians reported having no spare income after paying for basic items such as food and accommodation.

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Runaway price rises are making it harder to make ends meet. Consumer price inflation was running at 16.4 percent in April this year after hitting a 13-year high of 16.9 percent in March, according to state statistics service Rosstat. Prices have been driven up by Russia’s ban on a range of food imports from the West — a response to Western sanctions over Ukraine — and a steep devaluation of the Russian currency.

High inflation has depressed real wages, which fell 9.3 percent year-on-year in March, according to Rosstat. It has also encouraged some unwise behavior — Many Russians flocked to stores late last year as the ruble plummeted against the euro and dollar, eager to get the most out of their savings before the prices of imported goods rose.

This wave of spending is now coming back to haunt consumers, Ilona Lepp, Nielsen’s commercial director for Russia, said in a statement.

“After spending a lot at the end of 2014, Russians ran up against a significant rise in prices on the most essential goods in the beginning of the year, which means the drop in real wages was felt particularly hard,” Lepp said.

Russians’ consumer confidence fell to a record low of 72 points in the first quarter on Nielsen’s Consumer Confidence Index, a seven-point dip from the previous quarter.

With falling real wages forcing Russians to reduce spending, 55 percent of respondents to the survey said they would cut back on entertainment outside the home. Fifty percent said they would save on clothing purchases and 48 percent planned to switch to cheaper food brands.

Such cutbacks brought overall consumer spending in Russia down 8.7 percent year-on-year in March, damaging a key sector of the economy and deepening an economic slowdown that is expected to shrink the country’s gross domestic product by up to 5 percent this year.

The survey, part of Nielsen’s global consumer confidence study, was carried out among Internet users between Feb. 23 and March 13 of this year. The margin of error did not exceed 0.6 percent.

Icon by artist Sergei Suksin