Plumbing the Depths of Russian Poverty
For our money, the most under-appreciated Russia journalist working today is Galina Stolyarova of the St. Petersburg Times. In our issue today, we republish not one but two of Stolyarova’s recent reports exposing the true horror of poverty in Vladimir Putin’s Russia. No thinking, feeling human being can read these reports and conclude anything other than that the Putin economy is a not just a total failure, but a total sham.
Stolyarova writes about two Russians: a young man who tries very unsuccessfully to live on the so-called subsistence diet prescribed by the Kremlin, the one it uses to decide who lives “poverty,” and an old woman forced to steal to feed herself because her pension is too puny. These two very Russian stories make one thing perfectly clear: The Putin economy is not serving the people of Russia, it is victimizing them.
The response of the Putin regime to stories like these is not reform, as it would be in a normal country. Putin instead chooses to deny the existence of any problem, and to liquidate anyone who dares to tell the truth about it. Such a response is hardly surprising from Putin, since he is a proud KGB spy and this is the only way he knows to deal with dissent, the same way they did it in Soviet times.
Only days ago, the International Monetary Fund accused the Putin Kremlin of lying about inflation, of shamelessly claiming the rate for 2011 would be one-third lower than it actually will be. The report highlighted a fact that is obvious to any thinking person, namely that the Putin Kremlin simply cannot be trusted when it makes reports about economic progress. That’s why Stolyarova’s reporting is so essential. It steps through the curtain of lies puffed out by the Putin regime like a squid shooting a cloud of ink to conceal itself, and reveals what is really going on amongst the people of Russia.
As Paul Goble reports, there are certainly Russians like Stolyarova who know and tell the truth. Andrey Polunin of Svobodnaya Pressa explains for instance that the vast majority of the Russian population has suffered hugely under Putin so that a tiny elite can prosper:
The bottom 40 percent of the population has fallen behind over this period, he reports. The level of real incomes for the lowest 20 percent has fallen 1.45 times and the next lowest quintile by 1.2 times. At the other end, the top 20 percent have seen their incomes double, and the next highest quintile had their incomes go up a quarter. The average rate of illness among Russians rose 43 percent per 100,000 population over the period 1990 to 2008.
This is the reason, of course, that although Russia has the 11th largest economy on the planet its citizens do not rank in the top 130 nations for life expectancy. You can claim Russia has large population to care for with its wealth, but China’s population is ten times the size of Russia’s and China ranks #80 on the life expectancy list.
Putin’s Russia is wallowing in precisely the same bleak conditions of oppressive poverty that Russia has always faced, not of necessity but because the people of Russia are too craven and hapless to demand from their government anything better. Having turned to a savage like Putin for “leadership,” we can only say that Russians richly deserve their cruel fate, and will continue to do so as long as their apathy persists.