Russia’s balance sheet: could 1990s’ chaos return?


In the grip of its longest recession in 20 years, Russians seem resigned to the loss of the growth and prosperity they had come to see as the hallmark of President Vladimir Putin’s rule….many fear a return of an era they had hoped to have left behind: the decade of recession, economic shocks and poverty that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, The Financial Times reports:

According to [pollster] VCIOM, public satisfaction with the economic and social policies of the government is at its lowest level since 2011. In January, 32 per cent of respondents said they might participate if there were protests over economic or social issues in their home town, the highest proportion measured by VCIOM during the Putin era. The numbers have since levelled off but are still higher than at any time since autumn 2011 — when Moscow saw mass demonstrations against Mr Putin.

“Russians have come to highly appreciate the social wellbeing achieved since 2000, and therefore it will be extremely painful to let that go. Now that we’ve had two years of crisis there’s no prospect of growth, people [are] reminded of the 1990s,” says Tatyana Maleva, director of the Institute of Social Analysis and Forecasting at the Russian Academy of National Economy and Public Administration, Ranepa for short.

But social discontent has yet to be converted into political protest, say observers.

One factor is that the middle class, historically an agent of change in other societies, has barely grown in 16 years under Mr Putin. According to Ranepa data, it has been stable at about 20 per cent of Russian society since 2000, The FT adds:

Moreover, despite the country’s overall wealth gains during the Putin years, the income gap has widened. The country’s Gini coefficient — a widely recognised measure of inequality — rose from 37 in 2000 to 41.6 in 2012, suggesting a less equal distribution of income, which sociologists believe would lessen the effect of political empowerment.

Other forces vital to a vibrant economic future, such as scientists and multilingual talent, have left the country amid rising political pressures and a weaker rouble . According to the Levada Center, Russia’s only independent pollster, the most financially secure and best-educated are likely to emigrate.


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