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

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Why Most Russians Will Stay Home for New Year’s

Why Most Russians Will Stay Home for New Year’s
As Incomes Crumble, Even Celebrating with Friends Is Too Expensive for Them
Vladimir Ruvinsky
Vedomosti
December 27, 2018

New Year’s, apparently, has become a truly stay-at-home holiday. The number of Russians who plan to spend the long New Year’s holiday at home has jumped from 41% in late 2015 to 70% in late 2018, according to a survey by Romir, a Russian research company. The main reason is the rapid return to the conservative tradition of growing poverty and uncertainty in the future, combined with the desire to maintain previous levels of consumption of the most vital goods and services, which no longer include a winter holiday away from home.

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“How do you plan to spend the upcoming New Year’s holidays?” Overall: at home, 70%; at dacha, visiting relatives, 19%; traveling in Russia, 2%; working, 6%; traveling abroad, 2%; other, 1%. Average monthly income per family member of 10,000 rubles: at home, 73%; at dacha, visiting relatives, 18%; traveling in Russia, 2%; working, 6%. Average monthly income per family member of 10,000 rubles–25,000 rubles: at home, 74%; at dacha, visiting relatives, 17%; traveling in Russia, 1%; working, 5%; traveling abroad, 1%; other, 1%. Average monthly income per family member of 25,000 rubles or greater: at home, 56%; at dacha, visiting relatives, 25%; traveling in Russia, 4%; working, 8%; traveling abroad, 5%; other, 2%. Source: Romir, December 2018. Courtesy of Vedomosti

Surveys of the same representative selection of respondents have shown a drop-off in all other ways of spending the New Year’s holidays, which have basically become yet another period of time off work for Russians. The number of Russians planning to spend the holidays at the dacha or visiting friends or relatives has decreased from 34% to 19% in three years. Trips within Russia have dropped from 8% to 2%, while trips abroad have fallen from 4% to 2%.  Nearly everyone has been scrimping, including Russians with above-median incomes. Fifty-six percent of Russian with monthly incomes of 25,000 rubles [approx. $364] per family memberwill stay home, as will 74% of Russians with monthly incomes between 10,000 rubles and 25,000 rubles per family member. As Tatyana Maleva, an economist from RANEPA, notes, the Russian urban middle class, which has grown accustomed to traveling, cannot afford it.

The picture emerging from the survey reflects the mood of many Russians. Since 2014, real incomes have fallen four years in a row, and all indications are they will be shown to have fallen in 2018 as well. According to Rosstat, the monthly modal income in in 2017 was 13,274 rubles [approx. $233], while the monthly median income was 23,500 rubles [approx. $412]. Given these circumstances, the ruble’s devaluation, which has made trips abroad more expensive, is not such an important factor. In December 2015, one dollar cost as much as it does currently, 67 rubles, and its value was rising.

Holidays at home are not cheap, either. In November 2018, the percentage of Russians who had noticed a rise in prices had grown in comparison with October 2018, according to the Russian Central Bank. Forty percent of Russians noticed upticks in prices for meat and poultry; 32%, rises in the price of petrol; 28%, rising prices for cheese and sausage; while 26% had noticed that milk and dairy products were more expensive. All of these goods are part of the home holiday menu.

In comparison with 2014, consumption levels have fallen. They have not returned to their previous levels. Attempting to wriggle their way out of poverty or maintain their previous income levels, Russians have taken out an ever-growing number of consumer loans, which have proven difficult to pay back. Every fourth Russian who had outstanding loans in 2015–2017 spent 30% of their incomes paying them off, note Olga Kuzina and Nikita Krupensky, economists at the Higher School of Economics, in an article entitled “The High Debt of Russians: Myth or Reality?” published in the November 2018 issue of the journal Voprosy ekonomiki.

Generally, the Russian populace has transitioned to a minimalist model of consumerism, notes Maleva. Scrimping begins literally with the New Year. As Romir’s survey indicates, this transition has become a trend that will, apparently, shape the strategies and tactics of Russian consumers in the future, too. The only thing that has not changed over the years is the president’s televised New Year’s greeting: it costs nothing.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Squandering Its Way to Superpowerdom

“Squandering”: Did the US Secretary of State Grasp the Russian Approach to Budget Spending?
The Kremlin Accused the State Department of Tactlessness and Unprofessionalism, Yet Pompeo’s Remarks Were on the Mark
Yevgeny Karasyuk
Republic
December 13, 2018

padrino.jpgVenezuelan Defence Minister Vladimir Padrino gives his thumb up as he sits on the cockpit of a Russian Tupolev Tu-160 strategic long-range heavy supersonic bomber after it landed at Maiquetia International Airport, north of Caracas, on December 10, 2018. Courtesy of Federico Parra/AFP/Getty Images

Russian’s decision to send strategic bombers on a junket to an airport near Caracas elicited a curious reaction from US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who publicly expressed his pity for Russian taxpapers, whose money the Kremlin, habitually disregarding the costs, has been spending on its geopolitical moves.

“The Russian and Venezuelan people should see this for what it is: two corrupt governments squandering public funds, and squelching liberty and freedom while their people suffer,” Pompeo wrote.

The Russian Foreign Ministry responded by calling Pompeo’s statement “utterly unprofessional” and even “villainous.” Pompeo’s remarks, which the Kremlin, in turn, dubbed “inappropriate” and “undiplomatic,” were apparently really lacking in nuance: the hardships of Russians, fortunately, cannot yet be compared with the suffering of Venezuelans. But, hand on heart, was Pompeo so wrong when he talked about the losses to the Russian federal budget and lack of oversight?

Russian society has an extremely vague notion about how much the Kremlin’s expansionism has ultimately cost the country. According to calculations made by IHS Jane’s at the outset of Russia’s operations in Syria in autumn 2015, Russia could have been spending as much as $4 million a day. Later, the Yabloko Democratic Party, which is not seated in the Russian parliament, estimated the Kremlin had spent a total of 108–140 billion rubles [between $1.6 and $2.1 billion] on Syria. A more accurate assessment would be difficult to make. Experts doubt that anyone, including the Finance Ministry, keeps tabs on such expenditures. Thus, nobody knows the real cost of Russia’s involvement in the Syrian conflict, argues the Gaidar Institute’s Military Economics Laboratory.

The budget’s fading transparency has been a trend in recent years. In 2016, secret and top-secret allocations accounted for 22% of total federal budget expenditures, a record for the entire post-Soviet period, and much higher than secret allocations in comparable countries, according to RANEPA’s March 2015 report on the Russian economy.

Quite naturally, this state of affairs has not improved the quality of the state’s financial decisions. In terms of effective state spending, Russia ranked nineteenth in a new rating of twenty-five countries, compiled by the Higher School of Economics using data from the World Bank and OECD. Since they are not priorities for the current regime, problems with child mortality and life expectancy were among the reasons Russia ranked so low in the survey: the government spends more on the army than on healthcare—4.3% of GDP versus 3.8% of GDP, respectively. In these circumstances, the chances the Kremlin’s strategic projects in the Middle East and Africa (e.g., the Central African Republic, Burkina Faso, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Mozambique) will be decently funded are always much greater than the national healthcare project, which stipulated increased government spending on cancer treatment. The government nixed the plan over summer.

Since it remains largely Soviet in spirit, Russia’s foreign policy has been categorically blind to history’s lessons. The Soviet Union’s exorbitant geopolitical ambitions and support for fringe regimes around the world left the country with a legacy of mostly toxic multi-billion-dollar debts. The process of writing them off has been disguised as a form of international charity or, speaking diplomatically, official development assistance (ODA). According to RANEPA, writing off the debts of developing countries accounted for 35% of all such “international aid” last year or $425 million. It has been the Russian government’s usual way of doing business. Previously, the Russian government wrote off the debts of Nicaragua ($6.3 billion), Iraq ($21.5 billion), North Korea ($10.9 billion), Syria ($9.8 billion), Afghanistan ($11 billion), and Cuba ($29 billion), among other countries. Venezuela risks joining this sad list. Over the past twelve years, Russia has invested a total of $17 billion in the country.

Russia’s Expenditures on Official Development Assistance (Excluding Humanitarian Aid), 2005–2017, in Millions of Dollars. Sources: OECD, Russian Finance Ministry. Courtesy of Republic

Since it was paid for by the Russian federal budget, which has been running a deficit for the last seven years, Russian officials probably did not see the transatlantic flight of its strategic bombers as too expensive. On the contrary, they saw it as a flashy display of Russia’s military prowess and proof of its influence in the region. However, the government of Nicolás Maduro signed off on the stunt. Subject to growing pressure from creditors and an angry, desperate population, it lives day by day. In all likelihood, it will soon collapse, leaving behind a mountain of unpaid bills and unfulfilled obligations to its allies. If this is the case, can we evaluate the Russian government’s action better than the tactless Mike Pompeo did? Probably not.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Making Life Easier for Vegans in Petersburg

Анастасия Емельянова, основатель VegCode
Anastasia Yemelyanova, VegCode founder. Photo courtesy of Sergei Yermokhin and Delovoi Peterburg

A Barcode for Vegans: Petersburgers Develop App for Identifying Vegan Products Through Barcode
Inna Reikhard
Delovoi Peterburg
December 12, 2018

App Interests a Thousand Users in Single Woeek
Petersburgers Anastasia Yemelyanova, Alyona Kabardinova, and Nikolai Dubrovsky have developed the mobile VegCode app (Vegan IT LLC). Made available to users in early December, the app is designed for vegans. It lets shoppers use barcodes to figure out whether or not items in stores contain animal products and have been animal tested. The app currently has a database of 26,000 items marked “vegan” and “non-vegan.” Most of the items are edibles and cosmetics. Household cleaning products will soon be added to the list.

A Growing Segment
As the designers explained, there is a demand for the app, since the number of vegans in Russia has been growing at a rate of fifty percent annually. There are now approximately 150,000 vegans in Russia.

The team has been preparing to expand the app’s functionality by adding a map of vegan shops, cafes, and producers. The app, which operates in Russia and the CIS, will earn money by advertising the services of these businesses.

Attracting Investors
“Unlike Western Europe and the US, the problem of identifying vegan goods is much gnarlier in Russia, because there is not a well-defined system for labeling goods and far fewer speciality magazines,” Yemelyanova explains.

For example, you might find a retail item labeled “Lenten,” but it might not be appropriate for vegans. On the other hand, producers sometimes have no clue their product lines include ethical products.

The startuppers commenced work on the app in early 2018. They raised money on the crowdfunding website Planeta. They also made it to the finals of Philtech Accelerator, winning a 100,000-ruble prize from the Higher School of Economics. The team got another 300,000 rubles from venture investor Alexander Rumyantsev.

Yemelyanova says the hardest thing was compiling the database of retail items marked “vegan.”

“We get information about the content of products from open sources. Our users can also add items via the app. After they are moderated, the new items are listed in the database,” a spokesperson for the company said.

In a week’s time, the nearly thousand users who downloaded the app have suggested 4,000 more items for inclusion in the database.

Prospects
The market for vegan products in Petersburg has been growing rapidly. In 2015, sales were estimated at 80 million rubles [approx. 1 million euros]. In 2017, this figure climbed to 400 million rubles [approx. 5.3 million euros].

Petersburg has several dozen fast food outlets and shops catering to vegans, including Bunker and B12 Vegan Shop.

Petersburg is also home to a small number of vegan producers. Businessman Ivan Ivanov, for example, makes lactose-free dairy products, wheat steaks, and other edibles under the Primal Soymilk brand. Verde produces cheese and curd. Veganov makes soy and vegetable sausages, while Soymik produces soy-based products.

“Petersburg has the most thriving vegan movement in Russia. The city also has a growing number of vegan producers. Mainly, however, these are small businesses in which not a lot of money has been invested. Their products are usually not sold in retail chains, but I think the day when they’ll be sold there is not far off,” says Ivanov.

Ivanov says he had thought himself about making an app for identifying vegan products.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Macaroni Is a Vegetable

“3,500 rubles.” Graphic courtesy of Vedomosti. At the current exchange rate, 3,500 rubles is worth approximately 46 euros.

Some Can Only Afford Macaroni, But Some Cannot Even Afford That
Saratov Official’s Suggestion to Spend 3,500 Rubles on Food a Month Is a Reality for Millions of Russians
Tatyana Lomskaya
Vedomosti
October 19, 2018

The statement by Natalya Sokolova, minister for labor and employment in Saratov Region, that 3,500 rubles a month was enough for the “minimum physiological needs” of Saratov pensioners so angered the public that she was made an ex-minister in a matter of days. Ms. Sokolova had insisted it was not worth raising the monthly minimum cost of living for unemployed pensioners by 500 rubles: an increase of 288 rubles would be enough.

“Macaroni always costs the same,” she said.

Ms. Sokolova, however, refused to go on such a diet by way of an experiment. Her status supposedly did not allow it.

But is it only Saratov pensioners who subsit on such a meager diet? Let’s compare them with other regions.

The authorities calculate the amount of the mountly minimum cost of living on the basis of the cost of the monthly minimum food basket. They add to its cost (which is 3,500 rubles in the case of Saratov pensioners) the exact same amount of money for paying for non-food items and services, for example, clothing, housing, and utilities. The monthly minimum cost of living for pensioners in Saratov Region was therefore 7,176 rubles (95 euros) in the second quarter of 2018. It was 9,354 rubles (124 euros) for the region’s able-bodied residents, and 9,022 rubles (120 euros) for its children.

That is not much, but there are even poorer regions in Russia. For example, in Belgorod Region, an able-bodied resident should be able to live on 8,995 rubles (120 euros) a month, while a pensioner should be able to survive on 6,951 rubles (92 euros) a month. In Mordovia, the corresponding figures are 9,132 rubles (121 euros) and 6,975 rubles (93 euros) a month; in Chuvashia, 9,248 rubles (123 euros) and 7,101 rubles (94 euros). The federal monthly minimum cost of living is 11,280 rubles (150 euros) for an able-bodied person, 8,583 rubles (114 euros) for a pensioner, and 10,390 rubles (138 euros) for a child. Meaning that, on average, the monthly diet in Russia as a whole is only a little more expensive than the Saratov diet: between 4,000 rubles (53 euros) and 5,500 rubles (73 rubles).

The monthly minimum food basket includes the cheapest groceries. It is meant to provide an individual with the necessary amount of protein, fats, and carbohydrates for a month, explains Liliya Ovcharova, director of the Institute for Social Policy at the Higher School of Economics. The basket mainly contains baked goods, a few eggs, lots of porridge, milk, and an altogether small amount of meat. According to Ms. Ovcharova, the diet will keep a person alive. It is another matter that it is “tasteless” and below rational norms of consumption, flagrantly lacking in meat, vegetables, and fruit. It is not surprising people find this diet unacceptable.

In 2017, however, the incomes of 13.2% of Russians were below the minimum cost of living, meaning that 18.9 million people in Russia could not afford even the macaroni snubbed by the ex-minister in Saratov. This figure includes children: one in five Russian children lives in family whose per capita income is below the minimum cost of living. Among old-age pensioners, however, there is practically no one who is officially poor. If their incomes are below the minimum cost of living for pensioners, they receive an additional payment to help them top up to the minimum. Children in large families are not eligible for these additional payments.

The question is what is now the more realistic approach: making the diet more humane or reducing the number of people who cannot afford even an inhumane diet. For example, the government could first reduce the number of children in need to 5%, and then improve the diet. Vladimir Putin ordered the government to reduce the number of needy people by half by 2024. If we now increased the minimum cost of living by 50%, the number of poor people would, on the contrary, double, Ms. Ovcharova estimates.

But the number of poor people can be measured not only on the basis of the minimum grocery basket, a standard that was introduced back in the 1990s. In European countries, for example, people with incomes of 50% of the median have been considered poor since the 1950s. At the same time, the Europeans base their calculations not on minimal but on rational norms of food consumption, Ms. Ovcharova notes. They compute how many specific vitamins, minerals, iron, and calcium a person needs. This food basket is much pricier and presupposes a completely different level of consumption and well-being.

It is probably best not to count how many Saratov pensioners can afford this food basket until 2024.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Our Own Private Romania

ilieni-dinu-lazar

Wages in Russia Catch Up to Wages in Romania
Anastasia Manuylova
Kommersant
July 23, 2018

Wages in Russia are higher than those in the other CIS (Commonwealth of Independent States) countries and comparable with those in Central and Eastern European countries. Those are the findings of the experts at the Higher School of Economics (HSE) who have issued the report “Wage Comparisons among Countries in 2011–2017.” They used purchasing power parity (PPP) indicators to do their calculations.

As 2017 came to a close, Russia was the leader in terms of wages among the CIS countries. Taking PPP into account, the average monthly wage in Russia last year amounted to $671. Kazakhstan lagged behind this benchmark less than the other CIS countries. Its average monthly wage in 2016–2017 was $459 and thus lower than the average wage in Russia by 30–40%. Tajikistan was the farthest behind, with an average monthly wage of $147. The study’s authors note the wage gap between Russia and the other CIS countries has continued to widen since 2011. In particular, this has been due to a deterioration of economic conditions in Azerbaijan, Belarus, and Kazakhstan in  2015–2017.

However, Russia’s position looks less attractive when compared with other groups of countries. Thus, among the countries of Central Europe, the level of wages in Russia is comparable only with Romania ($678 a month) and Bulgaria ($602 a month). The average monthly wages in Czech Republic and Croatia, for example, are considerably higher than the average monthly wage in Russia (by 80–90%), despite a downward trend in wages that has been observed since 2011. There is also a considerable gap between wages in Russia and wages in Poland and Hungary. In 2017, they outpaced Russia by 60–70%.

Among the BRICS countries, Russia exceeds the same indicator for Brazil by 5%. This gap has been narrowing in recent years, however. Wages in China outpaced wages in Russia as early as 2014, and the gap between the two countries is now almost 30%. In the long term, as the HSE’s Svetlana Biryukova, the report’s co-author, explains, if the current wage trends in all the countries, including Russia, continue, Russia would retain its leadership only among the CIS countries, but would find itself in last place among Central and Eastern European countries.

Translated by the Russian Reader. Photo courtesy of romaniatourism.com

The New Serfs

kozyrev-muscovitesPhoto by Yuri Kozyrev for the project Muscovites. Courtesy of Novaya Gazeta

The New Serfs
On July 9, Millions of Migrant Workers and Foreign Students Will Be Stripped of the Right to Freedom of Movement in Russia in a Single Bound. What Has Happened?
Vyacheslav Polovinko and Tatyana Vasilchuk
Novaya Gazeta
July 6, 2018

On June 28, Vladimir Putin signed Federal Law No. 163-FZ, which clarifies the guidelines for immigration registration in Russia. According to the amended law, such notions as a foreign national’s place of residence and the party hosting the foreign national have been defined more precisely. The majority of media outlets have described the new law as making the lives of migrant workers less burdensome, since the new law says foreign workers can be registered as dwelling in construction site trailers. This has provoked grumbling among “tolerant” Russians, who have complained migrant workers will arrive in even greater numbers and occupy all the country’s trailers.

In fact, the situation is quite different. The new rules are a blow to all law-abiding migrant workers and nearly all foreign students. Any legal entity that attempts to hire foreign nationals to work or study in Russia could find itself in violation of the law.

Even people who have all the papers and permissions for staying in Russia could be deemed lawbreakers.

The July Eighth Law
When a foreign national arrives in Russia, she is obliged to present herself to the immigration authorities and register her place of residence. However, she cannot register herself: the people or entities who invited her are obliged to do this. If she has come on a private visit, this would be the owner of the flat she has rented or the hotel where she is staying. If she has come to Russia to study, the university where she will be studying is obliged to register her. If she has come to Russia to work, the company in which she is employed must register her. (The last instance is more flexible, because her company is obliged to register her with the immigration authorities, but they may or may not register her place of residence as they wish, apparently.) Private landlords are a separate topic, but legal entities would take the easy way out. The law used to permit them to register the university or the company’s main address as a student’s or employee’s domicile. However, the foreign national could actually live somewhere else. It was understood, however, that if the police or other competent authorities were looking for her, they could do so at the address where she was officially registered.

The old system had its advantages and its shortcomings.

“There are companies that have five or six thousand foreign nationals on staff. It is convenient for them to register people at their business address to oversee whether their employees are paying for work permits and extending their residence permits on time,” says migration expert Svetlana Salamova.

The other side of the coin has to do with the poor living conditions of some foreign workers. This is most often the case among migrant workers from Central Asia.

“Employers would sometimes accommodate fifteen people at a time in trailers, in which the living conditions were rough. Besides, finding people via their legally registered domicile was often quite complicated,” explains human rights defender Andrei Babushkin.

To solve these problems, the definitions of key notions in the immigration laws have been amended. Actually, however the circumstances of migrant workers and their Russian employers have been considerably worsened, not improved. The amendments signed into law on June 28 stipulate that the place where the foreign national stays cannot be a normal domicile, but it can be other premises where the foreign national or stateless person actually resides, i.e., regularly uses for sleep and relaxation. If she is registered by a Russian organization, the foreigner must live for all intents and purposes in premises belonging to the organization. However, the premises must be equipped as a dwelling space.

In other words, if a foreign worker wants her company to register her with the authorities, she is obliged to reside full time in the company’s living accommodations.

The catch is that most legal entities simply do not having living accommodations. Construction companies will have the easiest time of it. They will now actually be able to register workers as legally residing in trailers and makeshift barracks at construction sites. All other companies have nowhere to accommodate their employees from other countries. A sofa and a microwave are not sufficient conditions for turning a room into a legal residence.

“Legally speaking, a domicile is a place that has been registered as such,” says Salamova. “An office with a sofa in it is not a domicile, but if your company lets you keep your suitcases there and install a stove and refrigerator, theoretically you could be registered as dwelling there. In this case, however, the employee from the personnel department who registers you with the Russian Interior Ministry [i.e., the police] will have to supply the immigration authorities with paperwork showing the room has been registered as a domicile.”

Will Russian companies be willing to turn their offices into bedrooms? The answer is obviously no.

Large auditing and consulting agencies, a field in which many foreign nationals are employed in Russia (not only expatriates but also graduates of Russian universities who are nationals of the former Soviet republics) have started to warn their employees about the need to look for a place where they can be registered as residing. Victoria Plotinskaya, marketing and public relations director at AT Consulting, told us that foreign employees at her company must register at their actual addresses before July 9. Previously, AT Consulting registered them at its business address, but now it is willing to provide them with legal assistance. Plotinskaya assumes their employees will have no difficulties, since registering oneself as residing in a rented flat is not a problem,  she claims.

We, however, have learned that several employees of major companies have been thinking about quitting their jobs or transferring to their home countries because their landlords have no intention of registering them.

“Companies will lose the ability to keep track of the immigration registration of their foreign national employees, while  foreign nationals who live in rented flats will have to negotiate with their landlords about registering them,” says Roman Gusev, director of Ernst & Young’s taxation and legal services department. The company does not plan to lay off any employees.

“In practice,” Gusev continues, “we see that many landlords refuse to deal with this procedure, because they don’t want the added administrative burden. In such cases, foreign nationals will have to urgently look for new accommodations. On the other hand, landlords who agree to meet the new requirements will have to keep close watch over their foreign tenants’ arrivals in the Russian Federation, since they have to be registered with immigration authorities after each such arrival.

“There are also risks for conscientious landlords. If their foreign national tenants arrive in the Russian Federation and fail to inform them, the landlords will be breaking the law without knowing it. On the other hand, foreign nationals could also find themselves in a pickle if their landlords suddenly refuse to register them with the immigration authorities or are simply unable to do what the law requires of them because they happen to be out of town,” concludes Gusev.

Unfortunately, the new rules are also retroactive, apparently, meaning everyone who is registered as residing at a business beyond July 8 will be in violation of the law come this Monday—unless, of course, they are unable to swiftly persuade their landlords to register them. In this case, however, no one can vouch that landlord will supply this service for free. Rental agreements presume that landlords pay taxes on the rent they charge. Verbal agreements to rent someone a flat and register them while not paying taxes could lead to a rise in the price of flats let to foreign nationals in Russia.

Formally, nothing has been said about the retroactive force of the amendments to the law, as signed by Putin. However, human rights activists have already been getting reports of attempts to deport migrant workers for dwelling in places where they are not registered to reside. In fact, the Interior Ministry already has the power to deport a non-Russian national if an inspector discovers him somewhere other than his registered domicile, say, at another flat in the evening.

This was what happened to Uzbek nationals in Omsk Region, says human rights activist Valentina Chupik. The Uzbeks went to a immigration center with registration papers obtained from a middleman, and they were sent off to be deported, allegedly because they did not live at their registered domicile.

In other words, under the new law, migrant workers no longer have the right to spend the night somewhere other than their legally registered, actual residence.

Under Article 54 of the Russian Constitution, laws cannot be applied retroactively. This was underscored by the specialists at Alliance Legal Migration, a firm based in Petersburg. In theory, then, all registrations issued before July 8 should be valid for their full terms. This can be proven only in court, however. Yet Russian courts rarely side with migrant workers.

Dormitory Hostages
Foreign nationals employed by Russian companies are only half of the problem. If push comes to shove, they can pay landlords extra money to register them. All foreign students in Russia are now at risk as well. Previously, universities would register their main buildings as the legal domiciles of their foreign students, but now they will be obliged to register all of them in university dormitories. However, the number of rooms in the dorms does not match the number of foreign students, and out-of-town Russian students have to live in dorms as well. Besides, there are students who do not want to live in dorms and can rent flats, students who have children, for example. Previously, they could count on their universities registering them, but now they will have to take care of their own registration.

The new law also applies to students who left for summer holidays not knowing they would return to Russia in the autumn on new terms. In addition, students who are registered in dorms are virtually their hostages.

Any violation of university regulations or, for example, attendance at an opposition rally gives university deans the chance to opportunity to revoke the registration of “troublesome” foreign students, which automatically means they are in violation of immigration laws and can be deported. Considering the fact that many international students have never experienced serfdom, they behave like free women and men. Their freedom will now be harshly restricted by the hours when the dorm’s main entrance closes.

Universities themselves seemingly have not yet figured out yet what they are going to do. The new rules have been a big surprise to most of them. The main issue they face is how they will now enroll international students if registering all of them legally has become impossible.

The Peoples’ Friendship University of Russia (RUDN) refused to comment on the amended rules. We were told by a spokesperson at the Higher School of Economics (HSE) that they were in the process of working out a way of dealing with the new rules. However, we have in our possession correspondence between students and the HSE’s immigration department, who categorically informed the students they could be registered only at their actual places of residence.

At Moscow State University (MGU), we were told, “The issues of timely migration registration and visa extensions for foreign students residing in rented flats is currently being examined by university management in order to find the optimal solution.”

“The university has not contemplated any limitations to enrolling foreign students due to the adoption of Federal Law No. 163-FZ, dated June 27, 2018,” a MGU spokesperson added.

Other universities failed to respond to our inquiries before this issue of the newspaper was sent to the presses.

“If a university does not have a dormitory or does not have enough room in its dormitories, students can ask for a written request from the university to landlords, asking them to register the students at their actual domiciles. And then the landlords can register them if they want to do so,” explains Salamova.

Closely Watched Flats
You should not imagine that all of the above is a headache for foreigners, but has nothing to do with you.

According to the new rules, Russian nationals who let flats to foreign nationals are automatically regarded as “hosts,” meaning they are obliged to register them as residing in their dwellings and are responsible for them.

“There will also be increased check-ups and fines in the case of noncompliance with the laws for people who let flats to foreigners,” predicts Salamova.

In all fairness, such fines also existed earlier, but they were almost never issued. We have been informed that as soon as the World Cup ends, the police will make an extra effort to inspect all residential buildings and search for unregistered foreigners living in them.

Moreover, Russians are currently responsible for foreign nationals, even if they have left the country but their immigration registration is still valid. A law bill, sponsored by Irina Yarovaya and on the verge of its second reading, has been tabled in the State Duma. If passed, it would make it possible to remove foreigners from the immigration registry instantly and on one’s own via the web. This means landlords would also be able to remove tenants from the registry whenever they wanted, claiming, for example, that they had lost touch with the migrant workers in question. Foreign tenants would thus be subject to the whims of landlords, who could raise their rent at the drop of a hat, threatening to remove them from the immigration registry if they failed to pay. Besides, if a migrant worker does not live in the flat where she is officially registered, she can find herself without papers at any minute because, according to yet another amendment, she can be stricken from the rolls as residing in a particular flat without her knowledge. This means that beat cops can stop her on the street and automatically fine and deport her.

In mid June, the State Duma approved yet another law bill in its second reading. If passed, it would make organizations that invite foreigners to Russia wholly responsible for their actions. For example, if a foreign national works somewhere else than the organization that invited him or “is up to no good,” as MP Viktor Karamyshev has put it, the authorities will pay a call to the foreigner’s primary host organization. In addition, companies would have to make sure that when an employment contract ends, the migrant worker leaves the country instantly. Otherwise, the companies would be fined.

At the same time, the State Duma approved a new list of fines for noncompliance with all these rules on the part of organizations and ordinary Russians.

Under the new regulations in the Administrative Offenses Code, individuals will pay fines of up to 4,000 rubles for violations involving migrant workers, while officials will pays up to 50,000 rubles, and legal entities will pay up to 500,000 rubles [approx. 6,700 euros].

Beneficiaries  
By and large, the batch of laws that have been adopted or are still under consideration (the Interior Ministry, for example, has launched an expert group to draft a Migration Code) should at least be sent back to the relevant committee for revision, since, as Babushkin says, “The harm they do outweighs the good.” But the way the new rules have been drafted and adopted behind the scenes—they did not warrant a single public hearing nor, as far we have ascertained, did their authors consult with independent migration lawyers—suggests their oppressiveness is advantageous as they currently stand.

Who stands to gain, however? MP Irina Yarovaya, for example, argues that certain changes, such as the ability to remove migrant workers from the registration rolls on one’s own, are in the interests of ordinary Russians. She states her case in a clarification to the law bill that the MP’s aides sent to us in reply to a request for comments. On the contrary, human rights activists argue the Interior Ministry, which now has complete oversight over immigration, has received yet another tool for extorting bribes. Any migrant worker can be stopped on the street by the police and threatened with deportation: he will find it easier to pay them off. Any landlord can be intimidated with fines.

The threat of deportation is a convenient tool for dealing with troublesome individuals.

Our newspaper published the story of Gulchekhra Aliyeva and her family. She and her son were locked up for five days without food and water at the Ramenki District Police Station in Moscow. They were let out of their cells twice a day to go to the toilet. According to the Aliyevs and human rights advocates, the police tried to extort them, promising to deport them if they did not pay up. The ostensible cause was the tightening of security on the eve of the World Cup. After human right defenders intervened, the Aliyevs were released, and a criminal investigation into allegations of torture was launched.

“However, when the Aliyevs were summoned for questioning, it transpired  the police planned to deport them for being registered at their place of work rather than where they actually lived,” says Chupik.

Moreover, this happened before the new law had taken effect.

“We basically saved them by escaping the police station,” recalls Chupik.

The special services also stand to benefit from the new law. As we have learned from a source with ties to the academic world, special services officers have connections to the immigration departments in several Russian universities.

This is tantamount to reviving the Soviet system of “working” with international students at universities. Given that they inevitably violate the rules, they can be inclined to “friendship” and “cooperation” when necessary.

Besides, foreigners per se will now be unable to take the slightest step in Russia without official registration. Nationals of our allies Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan will also be punished, but that is collateral damage.

Finally, fly-by-night fake migration registrars stand to gain from the law, since their entire business will disappear into the shadow economy. Even now, migrant workers who travel to the Multi-Purpose Migration Center (MMTs) in Sakharovo, in the far southern outskirts of Moscow, cannot have their domiciles registered while other papers are being processed, including their work permits. Human rights activists say the MMTs has lost this right due to the new law.

“Everyone mobs Kazan Station, getting registered by people who give them counterfeit papers,” claims Chupik.

As far as we know, the neighborhood around the Kazan Railway Station, in central Moscow, has the largest number of people offering such dubious services. Moreover, these deals are made more or less in plain view of law enforcement officers, who do nothing about them: maybe they know something important we do not know or know more thane we. The price of counterfeit registration papers is between seven and eight thousand rubles [approx. 95 to 110 euros], a hefty sum of money for migrant workers.

The Interior Ministry stubbornly persists in saying nothing about how the new law will be enforced: it has not published any official clarifications. We have sent the ministry a request to comment, but when this newspaper went to the print, the ministry had not yet responded.

Thanks to Sergey Abashin for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader