They Also Lie About How Much They Pay Us

“Loans, whatever your credit history, paid in cash in 30 minutes.” Flyer photographed in central Petersburg, 15 May 2017. Photo by TRR

Russian Public TV: Average Wage in Pskov Region Two Times Lower than Official Figures
Pskovskaya Guberniya Online
March 15, 2017

An SMS poll conducted by Russian Public Television (OTR) has shown that the average monthly wage in Pskov Region is two times lower than the official figures, amounting to 9,950 rubles [approx. 160 euros]. These figures were published by OTR’s news service on the basis of information sent by viewers. OTR viewers reported their minimum and maximum monthly wages: they amounted to 6,500 rubles and 15,000 rubles, respectively. According to Rosstat, the average monthly wage in Pskov Region amounts to 22,264 rubles [approx. 358 euros].

The poll showed that the average monthly wage in Russia is 15,158 rubles [approx. 244 euros], which is also two times less than the official figures. Rosstat reported that the average monthly wage this year has amounted to 36,746 rubles [approx. 590 euros]. According to Rosstat, the poorest region is Dagestan. The average monthly wage in the country’s wealthiest regions—Murmansk, St. Petersburg, Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous District, Khanty-Mansiysk Autonomous District, Sakhalin, Kamchatka, Moscow, and Moscow Region—is over 40,000 rubles per month [approx. 640 euros].

According to OTR’s survey, only viewers in Moscow, Moscow Region, Buryatia, Ingushetia, the Maritime District, and Belgorod Region make over 30,000 rubles a month. Viewers in Kabardino-Balkaria, Kursk Region, Orenburg Region, Pskov Region, Saratov Region, and Tver Region make less than 10,000 rubles a month. The lowest monthly wage was discovered in Novgorod Region. A postman there makes 2,800 rubles a month [approx. 45 euros].

Translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to Comrade Koganzon for the heads-up. See “Russia’s Economic Performance: Fudging the Stats” (February 16, 2017) and “Alexei Gaskarov: A 25,000 Ruble Minimum Monthly Wage Is a Good Idea” (February 9, 2017) for more perspectives on these issues.

Russia’s Economic Performance: Fudging the Stats

“The Country’s Leaders Are Relying on Erroneous Economic Data”
Economist Grigory Hanin Explains How the Official Figures Are Deceiving 
Alexander Trushin
February 11, 2017

The article “Russia Cannot Be Understand by Labor” (Ogonyok 3, 2017), which dealt with low workforce productivity in Russia, struck a huge chord with readers. Serious academics responded to it, including Grigory Hanin, a professor at RANEPA’s Siberian Institute of Management, and Dmitry Fomin, an assistant professor at the Novosibirsk State University of Economics and Management. They are convinced the official figures on which both government agencies and the authors of the above-mentioned article rely do not jibe with reality.

We quote the letter they sent to us:

“Your magazine has been promptly sounding the alarm as to Russia’s lagging behind in terms of workforce productivity. Your focus on the obsolescence of Russia’s production facilities is also justified. But the stance adopted by the authors is weakened when they rely on figures from Rosstat, which embellish the real state of the economy, as the Soviet Central Statistical Directorate (TsSU) used to do. We have produced alternative estimates of macroeconomic indicators for the Soviet Union since the early 1970s and now for the Russian Federation, based on a number of more reliable figures from Soviet and Russian statistics. We have been able to refine Rosstat’s estimates. The gap in workforce productivity between Russia and the developed countries is greatly underestimated in the article. If instead of the quite dubious cost data cited there, you use the genuine data, you find a gap of five to seven times or more, sometime as much as ten times.

“The authors have greatly underestimated the deterioration of physical capital. We have made alternative estimates of the depreciation of fixed assets in the Russian Federation from 1991 to 2015, taking into account the real value of fixed capital during this period and the preceding Soviet period. The estimates have shown that the depreciation of fixed capital amounted to 64.4% in 2015, rather than the 49.4% indicated by Rosstat. […] For a better understanding of our country’s problems with regard to the depreciation of physical capital, we should factor in the depreciation of human capital, the disastrous decline in education from the 1970s to the present. The objective of navigating a way out oof Russia’s backwardness in terms of workforce productivity is extremly complex, requiring colossal efforts and sacrifices from the entire society[.]”

Ogonyok asked one of the letter’s authors, Grigory Hanin, to explain what was wrong with the statistics cited by everyone from government agencies to ordinary people.

What is the difference between the official figures and your estimates of Russia’s macroeconomic indicators?

According to the longitudinal research Dmitry Fomin and I have been doing, Russia’s GDP has not grown by 13.4% from 1992 to 2015, as Rosstat claims, but has decreased by 10.2%. During the same period, Russia’s workforce productivity has fallen by 30.1% instead of having grown by 9.2%, as the official figures claim. Basic fixed assets (buildings and plant, machinery, machine tools, and other assets involved in production) have decreased by 29.2% in terms of their full book value, although the official figures claim they have increased by 50.9%.

How do you explain this discrepancy?

The official figures deal with basic fixed assets incorrectly. We are talking about physical capital, a vital economic resource. Along with human capital, it defines the level of economic development and shapes GDP’s performance and value and other macroeconomic indicators. No other indicator has been distorted as much in statistics in the Soviet Union and Russia as this one. It is a fairly complicated indicator. Many countries have problems with it, even the World Bank, which does its estimates based on the official data submitted by each country, including Rosstat.

How important is the erroneous estimate of fixed assets?

First of all, when there is inflation, which there has almost always been in the Soviet Union and Russian Federation, the underestimation of fixed assets has always led to exaggerating their performance, since old and new assets are valued in terms of different rubles: old assets in terms oof expensive rubles, and new assets in terms of cheap rubles. All of this impacts the underestimation of the value of depreciation and production costs. Consequently, profits are exaggerated.

Meaning, we cannot get a fix on the real state of the Russian economy?

It’s a problem that has been dragging on since the late 1920s, when assets were, according to my calculations, undervalued by almost half. Consequently, resources spent on refurbishing the assets were not take into account, nor was the increase in production costs. In the 1930s and 1940s, the underestimation continued to grown, despite reevaluations in certain sectors. Only in 1960 was a general reevaluation of fixed assets carried out, but it was chockablock with mistakes. Afterwards, due to ongoing inflation, the error in calculating the value of fixed assets continued to grow. By the late 1980s, it had grown by four and a half times. By 2015, the fixed assets were underestimated by 7.3 times, according to our calculations.

In the Soviet economy, all cost data that reflected productivity and national income growth, including the value of fixed assets, were distorted. Soviet production figures given in physical terms (tons, units, etc.) can be considered more or less reliable, because the central planning process was based on them.

But the problem persisted when we switched to a market economy in the 1990s?

In the early 1990s, Russian statistics switched to international standards. We seemingly had rid ourselves of the shortcomings of Soviet statistics, but new ones emerged. Several attempts were made in the 1990s to reevaluate fixed assets, but the official figures on the trends in fixed assets still turned out wrong.

What is your estimate of the scale of the disaster?

It was only this year we finished a full year-by-year estimate of the performance of fixed assets from 1991 to 2015. I have to confess the outcome was surprising. I should emphasize from the outset that our calculation does not claim to be totally precise. (There is no such animal in macroeconomic statistics.) But we are confident of its objectivity. So, the volume of fixed assets in terms of depreciation had decreased approximately twofold by 2015 compared to 1991. [This figure differs from the total book value, which is based on the original cost of the assets, to which upgrading costs have been added — Ogonyok.] This is much more than the damage incurred by the Great Patriotic War [i.e., WWII]. The decrease then amounted to 33.5%. Here is another figure. The Russian economy has lost a total of 422.5 trillion rubles in fixed assets, taking into account their depreciation over the last 25 years. This sum is equal to Russia’s GDP for the last five years. The reduction of fixed assets has occurred because capital investment during the post-Soviet period has been less than the scale of asset retirement. Rosstat, however, does not take this into account attempting to persuade us the reverse is true: that physical capital has increased by 51% since 1991. This radically alters how we evaluate the economy’s profitability, because it dramatically increases the costs of depreciating fixed assets. According to our estimates, in the early 2000s, their overestimation led to huge losses for the major manufacturing industries, while the commercial services sectors were highly profitable. Guided by official data on income, however, the tax authorities collected taxes mainly from the loss-making manufacturing sectors, thus exacerbating their financial difficulties, while exacting a minimum of taxes from the service industries.

How does the Russian economy look nowadays?

Let’s begin with the fact that half the fixed assets are left. I should note they are used better now in certain industries where the market economy has had a positive effect. The greatest reduction of fixed assets has occurred in manufacturing, but they have grown in the commercial services sector. At the same time, we have two industries that were almost wholly revived by foreign capital, beer brewing and confectioneries manufacturing. The services sector has increased almost twofold in Russia since 1991. This applies to the private sector of the economy: retail and wholesale trading, food services, hotel management and tourism, vehicle maintenance, private medical care, communications, public information services, and so on. In the public services sector—public healthcare, science and education, sport and physical education, housing and public utilities, the public road system—fixed assets have declined, but not as much as in industry. In Soviet times, there was a disproportion: an emphasis on heavy industry alongside underdeveloped service and consumer sectors. Now we see the hypetrophied growth of commercial services and the underdevelopment of the economy’s investment sector.

How has GDP’s performance fluctuated during this period, according to your calculations?

We have still not reached the level of 1991 in comparable prices, whereas Rosstat shows a surplus of 13%. However, in the 1990s, Rosstat even undervalued the drop in GDP a bit, because it gave insufficient weight to the gray economy. GDP was greater in the 1990s than Rosstat has claimed. On the other hand, from 1998 to 2007, the official figures greatly exaggerated the growth in GDP: 82%. According to our figures, growth amounted to only 48%. The upsurge in the early noughties, aside from a rise in the oil price, was due to the use of the reserve production capacity and manpower that had formed in the 1990s. By 2007, however, these growth opportunities had been tapped out. Stagnation and then a decline in economic growth inevitably had to set in. Which was what happened.

And things are also not kosher with the official inflation estimates?

Exactly. The underestimation of inflation levels is determined, albeit roughly, by the difference between Rosstat’s GDP performance stats and ours. This difference amounts annually to around two percentage points. Instead of 5% per year, say, it amounts to 7%.

Why do we need to calculate inflation accurately?

It affects social spending by the state: pensions, benefits, and all other payments that the state should index for inflation. And besides, there are the state’s investment costs, which have to account for inflation. But if accurate figures do not exist, then there is not enough money for new projects, which happens quite often.

Have foreign experts provided more accurate assessments of the state of the Russian economy?

No, they have all been mistaken, because they used Rosstat’s figures for their estimates. In the 1990s, they thought that since Rosstat had switched to international standards, they would not need to recalculate anything. On the other hand, the World Bank monitors two hundred countries, and it is simply physically incapable of recalculating the data for every country’s economy.

You have claimed that workforce productivity in Russian is lower than in developed countries, by five to seven times, or even ten times. What is the basis for these estimates?

There are two types of economists: macroeconomists and industrial economists. And there are methods of estimating workforce productivity. The first focus on price indicators, while the second focus on non-monetary indicators. The first calculation is often wrong due to the dubiousness of the ruble-to-dollar conversion factors. But you can use non-monetary indicators for certain industries, and then you obtain different outcomes. For example, petroleum production. Divide the volume of production by the number of people employed in the industry, and you get output per worker. You can do the same thing with metallurgy, machine building, agriculture, and all industries, and then compare them with other countries. That was how we got the outcome about which we wrote to you. The estimate was derived from numerous Russian industry publications.

How do you assess the state of human capital in Russia?

We suffered huge demographic losses in the twentieth century through wars, purges, famine, emigration. According to my estimates, we lost between 70 and 80 million people. Moreover, the losses affected the intellectual segment of the populace more: such people were more likely to die in wars and more likely to emigrate. Three of the four living Russian Nobel Prize winners work abroad. Add to that the degradation of secondary and higher education that has been observed since the 1970s. Plus the stupefaction of the populace by the media, especially the electronic media. I go to our library in Novosibirsk, one of the largest libraries in Russia. The reading roooms are nearly empty: there are more librarians there than readers. Recently, I visited the Bavarian State Library. Tears welled up in my eyes. I saw an enormous reading room, nearly a kilometer long, chockablock with people. If you go into our main bookstore in Novosibirsk you’ll find ten to fifteen shoppers, while in Munich they have a seven-storey bookstore. There are something like two hundred people people browsing the shelves, picking out books, sitting on couches, sipping coffee, and chatting.

Can we bridge the gap with the developed countries?

Bridging the gap is unthinkable. Imagine you are standing at the starting line, and your competitors have taken off and have a five-kilometer headstart on you. The government relies on erroneous economic data and underestimates the depth of problems. The illusion is generated that economic recovery is possible without serious costs. We have estimated that, in terms of 2015 prices, 14.6 trillion rubles in investments would be required to maintain fixed assets and grow them by 3%. Plus, we would need 900 billion rubles for working capital. To develop human capital—education, healthcare, research—we would have to invest 10.3 trillion rubles. This would amount to 25.8 trillion rubles a year, which is a third of Russia’s annual GDP.

And nothing can be done?

It’s possible to narrow the gap. To do this, we would have to redistribute incomes to physical and human capital, and to the neediest segments of the populace. But even that would require enormous efforts. We could, for example, redistribute incomes to narrow the social differentiation among decile groups from the current ratio of 30:1 to 6:1, that is, the figure that exists in most Western European countries. But this would all take many years to accomplish.


Ogonyok asked Rosstat to comment on the divergence in key economic development indicators for Russia. We are waiting for a response to this request.

Business Card

An  Economist with a Stance

Grigory Hanin finished graduate school at the Leningrad Finance and Economic Institute in 1962, and then worked at Novosibirsk State University. In 1968, he successfully defended his candidate’s dissertation, but the Higher Attestation Commission (VAK) refused to approve it due to its “market-based approach.” In 1972, Hanin was dismissed from the university for his dissenting views on the economy, which were, allegedly, “negatively affecting” students in the economics department. Hanin could not be expelled from academics, however. He successfully defended his candidate’s dissertation at the Institute of World Economy and International Relations of the Russian Academy of Sciences (IMEMO RAN), and then his doctor’s dissertation at the Central Economic and Mathematical Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences (TsEMI RAN). Hanin did research on alternative macroeconomic estimates of the Soviet economy. In 1987, Hanin and journalist Vasily Selyunin published the famous article “Tricky Numbers” in the journal Novy Mir, causing a huge public outcry. Hanin is currently a professor at RANEPA’s Siberian Institute of Management, where he researches recent Russian economic history.

The Numbers

A Big Difference

How official and alternative estimates of Russia’s macroeconomic performance vary

Rosstat’s figures Alternative estimates
GDP* 113.4% 89.8%
Productivity* 109.2% 69.9%
Inflation** 5.38% 7.38%

* In 2015, relative to 1991

** In 2016

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

Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics


Instrument Failure: Why It Is Hard to Trust Rosstat’s Data on the Recession’s End
Sergei Aleksashenko
February 6, 2017

Over the last year, Rosstat has ceased publishing a number of important indicators for judging the economy’s real performance.

The other day, Rosstat published its updated assessment of the Russian economy’s performance over the past two years. Strictly speaking, there is nothing surprising about the fact that Russia’s official statistics agency amends its previously published assessments. It happens constantly in other countries, too. The fact is that the initial assessments, which are released a month or a month and a half after the the end of the latest quarter, are derived from on-the-spot information that is subsequently corrected.

A Rubik’s Cube
But what is really surprising is that, according to the updated view of Rosstat’s statisticians, the economy’s performance over the last two years was significantly better than had been thought. Rosstat now claims that, in 2015, Russia’s GDP decreased only by 2.8%, rather than 3.7%, as indicated in earlier assessments, and that 2016 basically saw no decrease whatsoever. This new take has been a surprise to everyone, including the Economic Development Ministry, whose experts have said they don’t understand why Rosstat has so radically revised its own assessments. They have been seconded by experts at Vnesheconombank (VEB), which nowadays employs a large team of macroeconomists led by ex-deputy economics minister Andrei Klepach. Rosstat’s assessement has also been a surprise to the prime minister and president, who have expressed no joy the economy had been doing much better than they thought only a couple of weeks ago.

As in many other cases, the different indicators in GDP figures do not exist in isolation from one another. They are closely linked, and it is almost never possible to change one of them without changing another. In very simple terms, it looks like this. GDP is the sum of the added value produced in different sectors of the economy, such as industrial manufacturing, agriculture, transportation, finance, etc. If the figures for manufacturing have suddenly improved or deteriorated, then, with all other things being equal, the figures for GDP should change just as much. But in addition to a manufacturing element in GDP, there is an end use element in GDP, which shows the level of demand for what the economy produces. In this case, the factors of demand are the populace, the state sector, nonprofit organizations, accumulation (investment and inventories), and net export (the difference between exports and imports). If the figures for manufacturing have deteriorated, not only should the total amount of GDP change but one of the components of demand should change as well, meaning we should be able to understand not only what manufacturing sector produced more added value but also who paid for it.

But that is not all. There is a third component of GDP, sources of income: added value divided by household income, net taxes (on manufacturing and imports), the gross operating surplus, and mixed income. That is, after we have determined from GDP figures for manufacturing who has produced more, and from figures for use who has bought what has been produced, the figures on sources of income tell us who earned money from this. It is a kind of Rubik’s Cube, which has only one correct (objective) combination. We see it clearly at once, just as see clearly when the cube has not been put together correctly.

The Quarterly Maze
There are other subtleties in GDP figures. For example, one of the big problems is calculating GDP in real terms, that is, adjusting it for inflation. Rosstat publishes deflators for individual sectors and, naturally, when they are used with sector-specific nominal data, the grand total should converge. So everyone has a good sense of the state of the economy, Rosstat should assess each quarter’s GDP performance in terms of the previous quarter. We are well aware that the first quarter, in which half of the month of January is taken up by holidays, and cold weather puts a halt to many kinds of work, bears no resemblance to the third quarter, when the weather is warm and the harvest is underway in the countryside. Nor does it bear any resemblance to the fourth quarter, when builders are trying to bring on line as many completed (or almost completed) buildings as possible, and the government spends at least twice as much money from the budget as in other months. When all these things are factored out, we arrive at the most important indicator, which tells us how things stood in the previous quarter.

Don’t laugh, but Rosstat has not published this figure since April 2016. At the recent Gaidar Forum, I needled one of the heads of Rosstat to find out why this had been happening. For fifteen minutes, he tried to persuade me I had simply not been able to locate the right table on his agency’s website. Rosstat’s website leaves a lot to be desired, of course. To fish out the right information, you sometimes have to spend an hour or two figuring out the poorly organized databases. In this case, however, I insisted the information was simply not there. A couple of days later, I received a letter from Rosstat saying that, indeed, Rosstat did not calculate this figure and did not know when it would be doing so again.

That alone is enough to take Rosstat’s published data about the Russian economy’s improved performance at less than face value. If we add to this the fact that Rosstat stopped publishing monthly investment figures in the spring of last year, and announced in November that revised figures for the manufacturing sector’s performance (figures that would, of course, be revised upwards) would be published only in the spring, it becomes obvious that Russia’s official statisticans cannot actually put the Rubik’s Cube together, and they don’t really know what is going on with the Russian economy. Meaning that all the instruments that should be telling us where the ship of our economy is sailing and how fast it is sailing there have failed.

The Secret GDP
I don’t want to argue the problem I want to touch on in my conclusion prevents Rosstat from adding everything up correctly. I suspect there are many more problems, and I fear that even the heads of Rosstat are not aware of all of them. But we cannot avoid talking about the fact that vast amounts of data relating to the work of the military-industrial complex and the security agencies are classified.

In fact, if this secrecy keeps anyone from understanding anything, it is the Russian authorities and Russian society. When it receives classified information, Rosstat has to hide it amidst its tables in such a way that not a single spy will guess it is there. To do this, Rosstat inevitably distorts the performance indicators for different sectors, adding something here, and trimming something there. But since hiding the truth from spies is much more important than telling the truth to Russian society, don’t shoot the piano player, as they say, for the poorly assembled Rubik’s Cube. He is playing as well as he can.

If you think about it, it is obvious the financial figures for the military-industrial complex’s performance are no state secret. The technical specs of weapons, the technology used to produce them, and, maybe, their locations can be secrets, but not the amount of money spent on their procurement (the classified section of the budget) or the amount of added value generated by the military-industrial complex.

I am confident that under the current Russian president we should not expect any progress in declassifying these figures. That was not what he was taught at the Higher School of the KGB. Since that is so, we are unlikely to find out in the coming years what is up with the Russian economy.

Sergey Aleksashenko is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington, DC. Translated by the Russian Reader. Image courtesy of

Farewell to Matyora


Experts Predict the Closure of All Rural Hospitals by 2023 
Ilya Nemchenko
December 9, 2016

If the number of social welfare institutions continues to decrease at the same pace, there will be no hospitals in rural areas within seven years. Experts argue that all rural schools and medical clinics could be closed within seventeen to twenty years.

Due to “optimization” processes, over the past twenty years, rural areas have lost much of their social infrastucture, experts at the Center for Economic and Political Reform (CEPR) have concluded. In report entitled “Russia, Land of Dying Villages,” they note the numbers of hospitals, schools, and clinics in rural areas will continue to decline in the coming years. RCB has a copy of the report.

Based on Rosstat’s data, the CEPR has calculated that, over the past fifteen to twenty years, the number of rural schools had shrunk by nearly 1.7 times (from 45,100 in 2000 to 25,900 in 2014), the number of rural hospitals by four times (from 4,300 to 1,060), and the number of rural clinics by 2.7 times (from 8,400 to 3,060).

The upshot is that all rural hospitals could close in seven years, while all rural schools and clinics could close in seventeen to twenty years, claims the report.

“It is clear that this is not possible and that all ‘optimizations’ have their limits. However, there are fears that social welfare institutions will continue to close in the countryside in the coming years, albeit at a much less impressive pace,” write the report’s authors.

The optimization of schools and hospitals is often justified by decreases in population, although it is socio-economic problems that facilitate flight to the cities. The experts argue the government has deliberately pursued a policy of depopulating rural areas and has deprived the countryside of its “last hope for the future.” They call the current circumstances a vicious circle. Optimization of social welfare facilities has proceeded at a much faster rate than rural depopulation and the abandonment of villages.

According to the report, the rural population has been in constant decline over the past twenty years. This has happened due both to migration outflows and the fact that the death rate has exceeded the birth rate. The number of deserted villages increased by more than six thousand from 2002 to 2010, to 19,500. Moreover, less than one hundred people live in more than half of all rural settlements.

The experts note that while the number of depopulated villages has continued to grow in Central Russia and the north, rural areas have been developing vigorously in the south. In 2016, the North Caucasus Federal District had the largest population in terms of percentages (50.9%), while the Northwest Federal District had the lowest (15.8%).

The study underscores that the main causes of depopulation in the countryside are social and economic problems. The standard of living is low in rural areas, while unemployment is relatively high, and this has spurred a growth in the crime rate. The experts note that prices in rural areas are high, so country dwellers spend more money on food than city dwellers do.

Population outflow has also been due to the poor quality of utilities and housing. According to the CEPR, only 57% of rural housing stock is supplied with running water, while only 33% of houses have hot water. The condition of the water mains in the countrsyide has constantly grown worse: only 54.7% of residents are supplied with safe drinking water. The experts note that only 5% of villagers have sewers. (This figure has not changed since 1995.) However, the provision of natural gas is relatively better. According to Rosstat, approximately 75% of the rural housing stock is supplied with pipeline or liquefied gas.

The CEPR’s researchers write that the government policy has concentrated capital, jobs, and people in the large cities, while attempts to maintain the rural population have failed, because there are no conditions for developing the villages. The experts believe that comprehensive socio-economic reforms are needed to solve the problem. Otherwise, the number of deserted villages will have increased by the time of the next census.

Translation and photo by the Russian Reader

See some of my previous posts on life in the Russian countryside:


Stuck on the needle: oil and gas account for 98% of Russian corporate profits
Pavel Miledin
September 24, 2015

RBC’s rating of the 500 largest Russian companies shows the real value of the oil and gas industry to the domestic economy. The contribution of all other companies to total gains—46 billion rubles in 2014—amounted to less than two percent

Andrei Molodkin, Hope, 2009. Acrylic block filled with Russian crude oil, edition of eight, 56 x 20 x 11 cm. Image courtesy of

According to Rosstat, Russia exported almost 500 billion dollars’ worth of goods in 2014; oil and natural gas accounted for 42% of this sum. In 2014, oil and gas revenues accounted for 7.4 trillion rubles or 51.3% of the country’s budget. If you look inside the corporate sector, the dependence on the oil and gas sector is even more impressive.

According to data from the RBC 500, a rating of the largest Russian companies, released on Wednesday, the total revenue of oil companies in 2014 amounted to 19.8 trillion rubles or 35.3% of the total revenue of all the companies in the rating, but 97.7% of all net profit, or 1.98 trillion rubles. All other sectors accounted for a mere 46 billion rubles of net profit. If only net profit is taken into account as the outcome of domestic business activity, there are, essentially, no other industries in Russia.

Our Everything
According to Oleg Buklemishev, director of the Economic Policy Research Center at the Moscow State University economics department, the date once again reveal the key story of the interaction between the Russian economy and the state, the agent that redistributes oil revenues.

“The whole history of attempts to diversify the economy has come precisely to this,” says Buklemishev.

This once again confirms that talk of diversifying the economy has just been talk, he adds.

Andrei Movchan, director of the Economic Policy Program at the Carnegie Moscow Center, thinks there is nothing unusual about all this.

“Russia is an exporting country, and all other sectors of industry dwell in the shadows of the oil industry,” he says.

According to Movchan, this is particularly noticeable during a crisis, when currency prices for commodities continue to allow the oil sector to profit.

The oil and gas sector’s net profit in 2013 was also huge, but not to the same extent. Then it amounted to 79.2% of the overall net profit of companies listed in the RBC 500.

“The devaluation of the ruble is having an impact,” explains Natalya Orlova, chief economist at Alfa Bank.

Oil and gas companies, which sell their products for hard currency, have weathered the collapse of the national currency better.

Buklemishev draws attention to the fact that the beginning of 2014 was generally good for the economy, and the effect of the sanctions and falling oil prices began to impact Russian business in the second part of the year. As late as June 2014, Brent crude oil cost $114 a barrel, which helped the oil sector show good results.

It is all a matter of revalued hard currency, argues Oleg Vyugin, board chairman of MDM Bank.

“Oil companies are chockablock with hard currency,” he says by way of explaining their brilliant 2014 results.

It is no wonder the most profitable company was Surgutneftegaz. Due in large part to its revalued hard currency savings, it made 885 billion rubles of net profit, 43% of all profits among the RBC 500.

Crisis More Noticeable
Falling corporate profits among the RBC 500 companies reveal the crisis more vividly than official data. Profits fell by nearly half (45%) from 2013 to 2014: from 3.7 trillion rubles to 2 trillion rubles. However, according to Rosstat’s data, in 2014, profits of Russian companies fell by a mere 10%, from 6.5 to 5.9 trillion rubles. Moreover, according to official statistics, 72% of companies were profitable, while 28% made a loss. Among the RBC companies, the split was slightly different: 81% were profitable, while 19% were loss making.

Movchan argues the difference in the numbers may be due to several factors. There is a “sector bias” in the rating of the largest companies. By the end of 2014, the crisis had not yet reached several sectors, for example, the service sector, which is not represented in the rating due to the absence of large companies there. Buklemishev says the more noticeable drop in profits among RBC 500 companies speaks to the fact that business has been going through difficult times.

“Profit is still a controllable variable, and in a bad situation corporations might try and show less profit in order to pay fewer taxes,” he argues.

But a revenue growth of 14%—the RBC 500 companies earned 56 trillion rubles in 2014—is merely the outcome of high inflation.

“It is practically zero in terms of tangible results,” says Movchan.

Oleg Vyugin agrees with him. According to Rosstat, inflation in 2014 was 11.4% and GDP grew by 0.6%.

“The RBC 500 data, which show a slight real growth in revenue and a fall in profits, correspond broadly to the situation in the economy,” he argues.

Small Improvements
There are a few other things worth remarking on in the RCB 500 rating. In terms of revenue (or rather its equivalent, operating income), the financial sector came in second place after oil and gas. Banks and financial companies earned 6 trillion rubles in 2014, outpacing metals and mining. It would seem that a good result for the financial sector testifies to the diversification of the oil economy.

Movchan and Buklemishev note, though, that the financial system is a function of cash flows from the oil industry, just like, however, transport and retail trade. According to Buklemishev, in 2015, the performance of banks will not be so impressive, and the sector itself will make a loss. (In 2014, the banks and financial companies in the RBC 500 showed a profit of 13.1 billion rubles.)

Another trend economists are watching is the strong growth and high net profit margins (the ratio of net income to revenue) in the Internet and online retail sector (e.g., Yandex, Yulmart, Mail.Ru Group, and Wildberries). Here, net profit is more than 50% of revenue. The telecommunication sector has also performed well in terms of profitability (11%). With a profit margin of 10%, the oil and gas industry is only in third place.

The growth of e-commerce is, apparently, one of the few trends showing that a market economy can develop normally in Russia. Oleg Kuzmin, chief economist at Renaissance Capital, argues that growth in this sector is quite understandable: cash flows from the ordinary goods and services sector are being redirected to the Internet. Another reason is that the public has been attempting to reduce its expenditures by buying cheaper goods on the web. It is no wonder that economists have pointed out the low profit margin in the retail segment—3.5% in 2014.

It is interesting to see what yields more profit to foreign companies operating in Russia. Last year, they received 7.2 trillion rubles in revenue here and earned 211 billion rubles in profit. Despite the low margins, most of their profits came from retail trade (17%), the production and sale of alcohol and tobacco (17%), and finance (10.8%). How is that not a diversified economy within Russia’s oil economy?

Translated by the Russian Reader


Russia rejects criticism of greenhouse gas plan, will not amend – top Putin adviser
Andrey Kuzmin
September 23, 2015

MOSCOW, Sept 23 (Reuters) – Russia has rebuffed calls for a more ambitious plan to cut its carbon dioxide emissions after environmentalists branded its current pledge inadequate and backward looking.

The world’s fourth largest emitter of greenhouse gases, Russia pledged in March to keep its emissions at 25–30 percent below the level it generated in 1990, the year before the Soviet Union and its vast industrial complex collapsed.

Green groups say the pledge, made ahead of a global warming summit in Paris in December, is far too easy for Moscow to fulfill because 1990 was a time when Soviet industry was a notoriously prolific polluter whereas Russia’s industrial base today is much smaller.

A group of four global climate research groups, known collectively as Climate Action Tracker, have rated Russia’s pledge as ‘inadequate’, worse than the ‘medium’ assessment they have handed out to other big polluters such as China, the United States and the European Union.

But President Vladimir Putin’s top adviser on global warming dismissed such criticism during an interview on the sidelines of a Moscow meeting of the United Nations’ International Panel on Climate Change this week.

“It is their opinion, it does not reflect anything and is not objective,” Alexander Bedritsky told Reuters, saying Russia would stick to its current plan.

“They can say whatever they want, but our commitments are based on around 70 scenarios of how the climate system will be developing.”

It is unfair to compare the Kremlin’s commitments to those of developed economies such as the United States or European Union member states because Russia is still an economy in transition, he added.

Russia’s pledge stresses the importance of increasing energy efficiency and boosting the use of renewables.

“If the contribution of Russian forests is fully taken into account, limiting greenhouse gas emissions to 70-75 percent of 1990 levels by 2030 does not create any obstacles for social and economic development,” it says.

With its gigantic reserves of oil, gas and coal, Russia emits 2 gigatonnes of CO2 equivalent a year, making it the fourth largest producer of greenhouse gases after the United States, China and India.

According to Greenpeace, 85 percent of CO2 equivalent emissions in Russia come from its energy industry.

They and other green groups say Russia’s current programme is far too unambitious because the Soviet Union was on the brink of collapse in 1990—the year the programme is pegged to—and its greenhouse gas emissions therefore fell sharply as the country’s industrial base shrank.

“This pledge is a tragedy, a catastrophe,” said Vladimir Chuprov, head of Greenpeace’s energy programme.

“With this 25–30 percent commitment they are basically saying: ‘Guys, we’re staying in the 20th century with our carbon-centered technology’.”

Chuprov and fellow environmentalists want Russia, the world’s biggest country by territory, to do much more, noting that its richest company—state-owned Gazprom—is the world’s leading corporate emitter of greenhouse gases.

Andrei Molodkin, Gazprom, 2012. Image courtesy of Orel Art, via Art Paris Art Fair

Specifically, Chuprov says Russia needs to expand its use of renewable energy and try to develop new power generating technologies or risk missing out on another technological revolution.

Currently, Russia gets 90 percent of its energy from carbon fuels such as oil, gas and coal, Chuprov said. Green groups estimate that only around 1 percent of the country’s energy needs comes from renewable sources.

Green groups such as Greenpeace or the World Wildlife Fund complain that central government in Russia does not consult them enough when it comes to formulating climate change policies.

Under its existing plan, Russia would fail to meet the goal set out by the United Nations’ International Panel on Climate Change to cut emissions to 50–80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050, he said.

Bedritsky said Russia was already making good progress and that its greenhouse gas emissions would peak at 25 percent below 1990 levels by 2020. They will then fall or stay flat until 2030, he added.

“Our preparations for the (Paris) summit are not just good, we have achieved excellent results, announced our commitments on time up until the year 2020, and until 2025 and 2030,” said Bedritsky. “We will definitely fulfill our promise.”

(Editing by Andrew Osborn and Gareth Jones)

Happy Russia Day!

At three-thirty this afternoon I was awoken from a well-deserved nap by an incoming SMS on my cellphone, which read:

Уважаемый Клиент, поздравляем Вас с Днём России – праздником свободы, мира, равноправия и справедливости! Искренне желаем Вам и Вашим близким душевного тепла, достатка, счастливой, долгой и благополучной жизни! С праздником, Ваш “Билайн”


Dear Customer, we congratulate you on Russia Day, a holiday of freedom, peace, equality, and justice! We sincerely wish you and your family warmth, prosperity, and a long, happy, safe life! Congratulations, Your Beeline

Aside from irritating the drowsy me to no end, the SMS inadvertently reminded me of an article I had read earlier in the day on the topic of equality in Russia.

One in six Russians lives below the poverty line
June 11, 2015

The numbers of Russians whose income is below the subsistence level increased by 3.1 million people in the first quarter of this year, up to 22.9 million. These figures have been published by Rosstat. The poverty rate rose to 15.9%, meaning that every sixth Russian falls into this category.

From January to March, the average subsistence level reached 9,662 rubles [approx. 155 euros] per person per month (a year ago it was 7,688 rubles). But inflation has also surged, which has been an especially painful blow to the poor.

The embargo on food imports from Europe and the United States, [introduced] in August 2014, fueled an inflation of food prices, and the 200% drop in the ruble’s value at year’s end drove up the prices of imported goods. As a result, by the end of the first quarter, the annual inflation rate in Russia had reached a thirteen-year maximum, 16.9%, according to Rosstat. By May, the figure had dropped slightly to 15.8%.

The statistics agency blames the increase in poverty on inflation. Average per capita monthly income, now at 25,210 rubles [approx. 400 euros per month], seems to have increased compared with the first quarter of 2015 by 11%, but fell by a quarter compared with the fourth quarter of last year.

Do you wonder how many Russians 15.9% is? The hipsters at The Village told their readers the answer yesterday evening as the latter were gearing up for the long holiday weekend: 22,900,000.

But how many people live in Russia?

According to the handy Political and Physical Map of Russia, published by AST Publishers in February 2015, which I recently picked up at my local French-owned hypermarket, the Russian Federation’s population stands at a healthy 146,100,000, now, apparently, that is, that the Republic of Crimea’s nearly two million former wayfarers have returned to home port.

map 1

map 3map 5

But there are a handful of malcontents who bristle at this new method of fighting poverty by annexing the territory and populations of other countries. One of them is  a stalwart of the Petersburg protest scene, Igor “Stepanych” Andreyev, who showed up to a “prayer for deliverance of the Fatherland from the oppression of lawless men in power” this afternoon, at the city’s Solovetsky Stone, sporting a provocative but veritable downer of a placard.


Russia immediately went mad after [the annexation of] Crimea (Yuly Kim). On June 12, 1990, Russia’s day of independence from the USSR was proclaimed! June 12, 2015, is the anniversary of Russia’s destructive isolation from the West.

Source: Facebook (Vadim F. Lurie)

Fortunately, the Russian authorities are not as down in the mouth as the sour old multiple arrestee Stepanych. For example, Maria Shcherbakova, the seemingly perpetual head of the city’s Central District, had these uplifting holiday congratulatory printouts pasted on every front door in our neighborhood the other day.

shcherbakov kongrats

Dear Central District Residents!

The Administration of Saint Petersburg’s Central District warmly congratulates you on the national holiday, Russia Day.

This holiday is dear to everyone who loves their Fatherland and takes pride in the glorious pages of its history and its extremely rich spiritual and cultural legacy. Based on the centuries-old traditions of Russian statehood, the huge creative potential of our multi-ethnic people, and unshakeable democratic values, we will make Russia a strong and successful country.

On Russia Day, I would like to wish all of us to be happy, to live in peace and tranquillity, and to thereby multiply the riches of our Motherland!

M.D. Shcherbakova
Chief Executive, Central District of Saint Petersburg

Earlier today, President Putin expressed similarly upbeat patriotic sentiments while handing out state prizes for achievements in science, technology, literature, and the arts:

“These ideals of patriotism are so deep and strong that no one has ever been able and will ever be able to recode Russia, to convert it to fit their formats. We cannot be separated, torn, and isolated from our native roots and origins.”

Who would want to “recode” and “reformat” Russia anyway? Grumpy old Stepanych? The nearly twenty-three million Russians now living on less than 155 euros a month?

Of course not, you sillies. It is that wicked, black-as-tar, uppity Negro from across the seas, Barack Obama, as the hipster baristas in the coffee hut on the corner of Liteiny Prospekt and ulitsa Belinskogo have pointed out in their own droll way.

obama's blood

We continue our trek around Petersburg’s fashionable spots:

“What is Obama’s Blood?”

“A quadruple espresso.”

“And why did you call it that?”

“That’s just what we came up with.”

Source: Facebook (Alexander Nazarov)

At 147 rubles a cup, Obama’s Blood is the most expensive item on the menu, as a friend has pointed out to me, but when you convert it to euros (€2.36) or dollars ($2.66), it is practically a steal.

And it will get in you in the mood for a fun albeit nerve-wracking Russia Day.

* * * * * *

Russia Day (Russian: День России, Den’ Rossii) is the national holiday of the Russian Federation, celebrated on June 12. It has been celebrated every year since 1992. The First Congress of People’s Deputies of the Russian Federation adopted the Declaration of State Sovereignty of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic on June 12, 1990.