Inflammation and stories on russia

Aid to Ukraine
Tensions mounted between the Russian and Ukrainian governments for years following the fall of the Soviet Union. But, in the latter half of 2021, Russia drew immediate international attention to the region when it built up a military presence along the Russia-Ukraine border. The aggressive action received immediate criticism from the international community, and on Feb. 24, 2022, the United Nations Security Council convened to discourage further conflict. Amid the meeting, Russia launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Countries, international organizations and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are providing aid to Ukraine in response to the invasion.

The Humanitarian Consequences

Since the invasion in February 2022, Ukraine has noted more than 1,500 casualties. As of March 11, 2022, more than 3 million refugees have fled to neighboring countries and experts predict that the conflict will have broader ramifications for international security. Russian military attacks crippled hospitals and residential areas, and against this backdrop of violence, Ukrainians both in and out of the country lack important resources. Vulnerable populations, including women, children and those below the poverty line, particularly need help as they lack basic medical services and necessities like food, water and shelter.

3 Organizations Providing Aid to Ukraine

Amid the protests and violence, several countries and organizations expressed their support for the Ukrainian people by providing aid to Ukraine.

  1. CARE. As an international humanitarian organization founded in 1945 to fight global poverty, CARE provides aid to Ukraine and other conflict-ridden countries. Following the crisis in Ukraine, the organization began initiatives to assist the people most in need, especially women, children and the elderly. The organization “aims to reach 4 million people” through its Ukraine Crisis Fund and partnership with fellow organization People in Need to “distribute urgently needed emergency supplies such as food, water, hygiene kits and cash to cover daily needs.” On March 3, 2022, these necessities arrived in Lviv, Ukraine, through trucks filled with “food, diapers and sleeping bags.” In the meantime, People in Need is handing out food in heated tents to civilians along the Slovak-Ukrainian border.
  2. Project HOPE. This NGO tackles the need for medical supplies and mental health resources. Response teams on the ground coordinate with local groups to assist refugees and provide assistance to hospitals in Ukraine. On March 14, 2022, Project HOPE  shipped “22 pallets of antibiotics and surgical supplies to Lviv.” The organization is also helping hospitals maintain some normal functions while assisting displaced people with otherwise limited access to health care services. Additionally, Project HOPE provided mental health resources to refugees in Romania by supporting local NGOs, noting that “mental health needs are the most urgent health concerns for refugees at this time” as Ukrainians enter countries where they have no social network or support system.
  3. Ukraine Humanitarian Fund. The United Nations Emergency Relief Coordinator developed the Ukraine Humanitarian Fund to direct money toward relevant, effective organizations, including the Red Cross, vetted international and national NGOs and United Nations agencies. The fund lets individuals indirectly allocate aid to Ukraine. Though the pooled fund underwent establishment in 2019, the effort is more important than before as ReliefWeb notes that, since Feb. 24, 2022, “Ukraine’s security and humanitarian situation is deteriorating rapidly.” The fund provides the necessary money for “health care, food aid, clean water, shelter and other humanitarian assistance” throughout Ukraine. As the crisis worsens, the United Nations can ensure funding “reaches the people most in need when they need it.” Like CARE and Project HOPE, this fund accepts donations straight from ordinary citizens to achieve humanitarian objectives.

Looking Ahead

Though it may seem difficult to imagine an end to the years-long conflict, individuals, organizations and countries across the world are directing their attention to hurt and displaced Ukrainian populations and there are ways for ordinary citizens to help. As the crisis unfolds, it is more important than ever for ongoing relief efforts to both receive and provide aid to Ukraine to protect vulnerable populations.

– Lauren Sung
Photo: Flickr

Renewable Energy in Russia
Russia is the world’s second-largest producer of natural gas and the third-largest producer of oil. These are powerful sources of energy that are not renewable. However, there is great potential to convert to renewable energy in Russia. Further, if Russia follows the trends in the United States, there is also potential for Russia’s poverty rates to decline by expanding renewable energy industries and the jobs they could bring.

Russian Oil and Natural Gas Industries

The oil and natural gas industries accounted for about 36% of Russia’s federal budget revenues in 2016. In 2020, Russia produced an average of 10.7 million barrels of oil a day.  With this sort of abundance, Europe depends on Russia’s oil production as a chief energy source. In fact, in 2016, Russia provided more than one-third of the oil that European countries imported. As for natural gas, in 2020, the Russian company Gazprom produced more than 431 billion cubic meters of natural gas.

Though as an energy source, oil and natural gas can damage the environment, there is a major benefit to maintaining these industries: they provide so much revenue and so many jobs. Russia’s unemployment rate is low at about 4.5% in 2021. It seems to follow then that without the oil and natural gas industry, the Russian economy could crash. More broadly, arguments have stated that countries that depend on their nonrenewable energy sources could risk increased poverty if they convert to renewables.

Russian Wind and Hydropower Potential

Though they are much less prevalent than their nonrenewable counterparts, there are sources of renewable energy in Russia. Scientists say that renewable resources have even distribution throughout Russia’s large territory. Also, because Russia is so large and has a variety of climates and terrains, it is ripe for the development of renewable energy sources (RES).

Scientists believe that the two RES with the most potential in Russia are wind and hydropower. The electricity that these sources produce would not only provide enough power for Russia but also allow Russia to be able to export to European countries. Unoccupied land in Russia is ideal for new wind and hydropower plants.

This fall Russia began a two-stage solicitation for clean energy projects. It aims to build capacity for up to 6.7 gigawatts (GW) in solar, wind and hydropower. In particular, with 4.7 GW for wind power, this would increase Russia’s wind capacity severalfold from its current 1.4 GW.

Renewable Energy Job Potential

One of the most promising effects of Russia’s transition to renewable energy is the jobs it could bring. To understand that potential, it makes sense to look at what’s happened in the United States. A recent Clean Jobs America report noted that there were more than 3.3 million workers in clean energy in the U.S. which is more than three times that of the number of workers in the fossil fuel industries. Further, the United States Bureau of Labor and Statistics projects that through 2026, the two fastest-growing occupations will be solar installer and wind technician.

The oil and gas industries currently dominate the Russian economy and job market. However, the recent push for renewable energy in Russia could be very beneficial in terms of environmental improvements and also through job creation.

– Andra Fofuca
Photo: Flickr

Sanctions on Belarus
Amid continuing United States (U.S.) and European Union (EU) sanctions on Belarus, border officials reported that four
 people have died on the Poland-Belarus border from hypothermia and exhaustion. Polish authorities have been severely restricting the arrival of immigrants. They have been sending people back from the border, leading many to camp out in the dense forests bordering Belarus.

Lukashenko: Reason for the Sanctions

The EU and the U.S. placed numerous economic sanctions on Belarus in response to Belarus President Lukashenko’s threatening political tactics. Lukashenko’s administration grounded a Ryanair flight containing a prominent activist from the opposition and detained numerous journalists critiquing Lukashenko. The Belarus government arrested 35,000 protesters and is holding 626 dissidents as political prisoners. These actions underline a long-term trend that Lukashenko’s actions violate key democratic ideals, as well as implications that he is unfit for leadership or that he won his 2020 election on fraudulent grounds.

Poland’s national government has also indicated that Lukashenko’s administration is responsible for flying in Middle Eastern refugees and pushing them to attempt illegally crossing the Poland-Belarus border. There have been 8,000 attempts during 2021, more than 3,500 attempts in August 2021 and more than 4,000 attempts in the first three weeks of September 2021. Polish authorities do not have enough resources to handle this influx and the over 1,400 in Polish detention centers. In response to these actions, Poland’s permanent representative at the EU, Andrzej Sados, has indicated Poland’s support for heightened sanctions. 

Sanctions’ Heavy Burden on Belarus

Sanctions on Belarus include rigid restrictions on military and surveillance technology, potassium-based fertilizer and petrol/petrol-based products. Bilateral trade between the EU and Belarus increased by 45% in the last 10 years, with 18.1% of Belarus’s goods trade stemming from the EU. Almost 25% of these exports were petroleum or potassium-based fertilizer so sanctions on these items put a heavy burden on the economy.

The U.S. and the EU also sanctioned Belarus’ cigarette industry that contributes significantly to European cigarette smuggling.  For example, over 90% of the cigarettes smuggled into Lithuania in 2020 came from Belarus.

Thirdly, the U.S. EU sanctions on Belarus include sanctions on politically active business leaders and sports entities. Canada joined the U.S. and the EU to sanction oligarch Nikolai Vorobei. The U.S. sanctioned the Belarus National Olympic Committee because Lukashenko’s son controls it.

Sanctions Threaten Belarus’ Success Combatting Poverty

With an economy so dependent on state-owned agricultural or industrial companies and their exports to the rest of Europe, the remarkable progress Belarus has made in lowering its poverty rate is at risk. Between 2000 and 2013, the poverty rate in Belarus fell by 60%. Economists have warned for the last decade that Belarus’ economy depends far too much on the exportation of a few goods. Further, the drop in poverty has not correlated with a rise in living standards. Lastly, the Belarusian rouble has also fallen by more than 30% against the euro since the beginning of 2021. 

The sanctions threaten Belarus’ economic gains, along with Belarus’ dependence on Russia, its largest trading partner. The loss of Russia’s oil and gas subsidies could devastate Belarus.

New Government, New Tech Sector, New Hope

The U.S. and EU sanctions, Lukashenko’s suppression of dissent, the border deaths and Russia’s stranglehold each jeopardize Belarus’ future. A change of leadership is the first step toward positive change. As Klaus-Jürgen Gern from the Kiel Institute for the World Economy said, “But without change, the economy will probably stagnate and decline in relative terms over the next decade because the incentives — like modernization and new investment — won’t be in place.”

Also, a new technology sector is emerging in Minsk. There are more than 450 new tech startups that are not beholden to Moscow. This is a glimmer of hope for Belarus to modernize and relieve itself from harsh leadership and crippling sanctions.

– Shruti Patankar
Photo: Flickr

poverty in the North Caucasus
The North Caucasus comprises a rugged region along Russia’s southwestern frontier. The area is ethnically diverse and has a complicated history. Additionally, its poverty rate is high compared to most other regions of Russia.

Background of the Region

The makeup and history of the North Caucasus are essential to understanding the nature of poverty there. The region lies along Russia’s border with Georgia and Azerbaijan. It consists of the five republics of Chechnya, Dagestan, Ingushetia, North Ossetia and Kabardino-Balkaria. The North Caucasus has a population of around 10 million, and of Russia’s eight federal districts, it is the only one in which ethnic Russians comprise a minority. Dozens of different ethnic groups call the North Caucasus home.

Conflict worsens poverty in the North Caucasus. After the fall of the Soviet Union, violence began in Chechnya and spread to the neighboring republics of the region, such as Dagestan, which has seen spillover violence. A low-level insurgency now spans much of the North Caucasus following earlier Chechen-Russian conflicts. Just as the conflict worsens poverty, poverty also contributes to conflict in the region. Areas such as Dagestan have become breeding grounds for Islamic extremists in recent years, due mainly to high unemployment and poverty rates throughout the region.

Poverty in the North Caucasus

Not only does the North Caucasus have high rates of poverty compared to other regions of Russia but it has also suffered from uneven development in recent years. Chechnya, which suffers from high poverty and unemployment rates, has seen little effective reconstruction in the wake of conflict. Underdevelopment also complicates accurately measuring the scope of poverty in the region.

The North Caucasus felt the economic impact of the pandemic heavily as many lost their jobs overnight. Additionally, the Russian government has largely left the regional governments of the North Caucasus on their own during the pandemic, sending little aid. The human rights violations and corruption that hamstring efforts to alleviate poverty have further complicated the situation. However, in recent years, the number of casualties from armed conflict in the region has diminished.

NGOs’ Work in the North Caucasus

With poverty so prevalent in the region, NGOs have been stepping up to provide needed services. For example, My Angel offers assistance to children in Karachayevo-Cherkessia who suffer from genetic diseases. Meanwhile, the All-Caucasus Youth Training Center works to encourage children’s participation in sports and provides support to women and children who have suffered violence. In addition, the Mother and Children NGO assists young women throughout the North Caucasus by informing them about their rights and healthcare options.

The North Caucasus is an incredibly diverse region within the Russian Federation. It has a complicated history, especially regarding the conflict that has impacted the region since the fall of the Soviet Union. In addition, poverty remains prevalent in the North Caucasus and contributes to conflict in the region. However, despite these challenges, NGOs are working to provide the people of the North Caucasus with as much assistance as possible.

Coulter Layden
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Marvel's Black WidowMany years since her first appearance in the cinematic universe, Natasha Romanoff or Marvel’s Black Widow, made her solo debut in the film “Black Widow.” The film debuted in theaters and on Disney+ on July 9, 2021, a groundbreaking film featuring a prominent ensemble of superwomen. However, the film is stirring the most conversation due to its powerful opening credit sequence.

The scene presents a series of video clips, images and allusions meant to represent the sexual and labor exploitation of women across the globe. More specifically, the opening credit sequence and the movie as a whole point to the fate of trafficked children.

This theme of human trafficking pivots off of Black Widow’s superhero backstory, in which the fictional underground Soviet agency known as the Red Room trafficked Natasha as a young girl. The organization abducted young girls across Eastern Europe and indoctrinated and exploited the girls to do the organization’s bidding.

The Importance of the Opening Credit Sequence

In the opening credit sequence, the audience sees the camera focus on the terrified faces of young girls lined up after traffickers kidnapped them. The opening credits also showcase ominous audio of screaming girls playing in the background of a young Natasha being separated from her younger sister Yelena and subsequent clips show older men manipulating and touching the girls.

Following the scenes, images of forced labor and indoctrination emerge, all of which are too common in the world, not just in Black Widow’s universe. The images and videos culminate in a line spoken near the end of the film by the leader of the Red Room. A man named Dreykov states that the Red Room “[uses] the only natural resource that the world has too much of, girls.”

According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), one in three females who are trafficking victims globally are children. The production team behind “Black Widow” was keenly aware of this statistic and wanted to make their movie more impactful. “Black Widow” director, Cate Shortland, intended for themes of human trafficking to come through the film.

Shortland wanted to “intersect [Marvel] with reality,” as the trafficking that defines Natasha Romanoff is based on real events that happen to thousands of young girls every year. Shortland felt that to ignore the blatant trafficking schemes of the Red Room and the atrocities that young girls similar to Natasha faced, notably forced hysterectomies, would be out-of-touch and a disservice to the impact that the film could make on audiences globally.

Human Trafficking in Russia

Russia, the location of the Red Room, comprises human trafficking for the purpose of labor and sex. This fact is on display in the film as there are numerous references to Russian culture and constant use of the Russian language throughout. As a Tier 3 country, the United States Department of State has reported that Russia has made little to no effort to combat trafficking. For example, the Russian government only investigated six trafficking or slavery cases between 2019 and 2020.

The Importance and Impact of Recognition

The UNODC has stressed that any form of awareness that one can cultivate and spread about human trafficking and gender-based violence is essential to alleviating the burdens of victims and preventing trafficking in the future. Marvel’s “Black Widow” raises awareness through the three-minute-long opening credit sequence. Meanwhile, Shortland and the rest of the cast and crew advocate for the forgotten women and those who are victims of violence and exploitation, similar to Marvel’s Black Widow, Natasha herself. Shortland then ends the film with Natasha and Yelena releasing the remaining women and girls from the Red Room in an empowering scene where the women are finally free from their abuse.

– Rebecca Fontana
Photo: Flickr

Impact of COVID-19 on Poverty in RussiaThe impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Russia is quite significant. Like many other nations worldwide, the pandemic has proven to be a sizable obstacle in the fight against poverty. Measures meant to limit the spread of COVID-19 within Russia have resulted in the Russian economy shrinking overall. With this economic shrinkage, more people within Russia are at the brink of falling into poverty.

Unemployment and Poverty Rates

The economic decline due to the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in a spike in unemployment within Russia. By October 2020, the unemployment rate had climbed to 6.3% — the highest unemployment rate Russia has seen in eight years. Many of these job losses mainly occurred in the “manufacturing, construction and retail and hospitality” sectors. Additionally, this increase in unemployment led to a spike in poverty. In the first quarter of 2020, the poverty rate stood at 12.65, rising to 13.2% in the second quarter of 2020.

Impact on Minor Cities

Some wealthy Russian cities, such as Moscow and St. Petersburg, are better positioned to handle the economic impact of the pandemic. These larger Russian cities had more robust local economies before the pandemic. However, smaller cities have proven less capable of handling the impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Russia. These smaller cities were hit hard by the collapse of Soviet industries with the fall of the Soviet Union, struggling to combat unemployment and poverty long before the onset of the pandemic. These impoverished cities also have some of the weakest healthcare systems in all of Russia. The pandemic has compounded this by overwhelming already under-supported healthcare systems.

Furthermore, sectors hit hard by the pandemic, such as construction and service, were previously a lifeline of employment for already impoverished cities. Many Russians within smaller cities face hard decisions of choosing between prioritizing health or income, with some opting to continue to work despite the dangers of COVID-19.

Impact on Migrant workers

The impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Russia is strongly felt among Russia’s sizable population of migrant Central Asian workers. Many of these migrant workers have remained within Russia during the pandemic, without jobs or income.

These Central Asia migrants were targets of discrimination before the onset of the pandemic and were already in a more vulnerable position within Russia before 2020. The pandemic has only compounded this vulnerability as many face unemployment and border closures have made it impossible for most to return to Central Asia to wait out the pandemic.

Statistics from December 2019 indicate that more than 1.6 million migrant workers reside in Moscow. The majority of these migrant workers are from Central Asia. Many work in sectors such as service or construction —  sectors that were especially hard-hit by COVID-19 restrictions in and around Moscow. The fees that migrant workers pay the city of Moscow for their work permits form a significant part of the city’s revenue. In 2016, the mayor stated that these permit payments brought the city “more revenue than oil companies.”

Intervention by NGOs

Throughout the pandemic, Russian NGOs have been providing Russians with varied forms of assistance to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Russia. Marginalized populations are often unintentionally overlooked in aid endeavors.

Nochlezhka is an NGO in St. Petersburg, Russia, focusing efforts on the often marginalized and excluded homeless population. The organization garnered the support of citizens to help distribute informational COVID-19 pamphlets to the homeless and encouraged donations of sanitizer and face masks. Nochlezhka also started the You Are Not Alone initiative, encouraging citizens to “leave plastic bags with food and hygiene products in places where homeless people could find them.”

NGOs have not limited their assistance to Russia’s homeless population though. Organizations have created services that are available to a wider array of people. For instance, the Agora International Human Rights Group is providing legal assistance to Russians on various legal issues during the pandemic, “such as fighting fines issued for breaching lockdown.”

Trends for the Future

Despite these troubling examples of COVID-19’s impact on Russian poverty and predictions indicating that the poverty level in Russia will remain above 10% for some time, there is hope for the future. Government policies meant to combat the economic impacts of the pandemic have had some recent success. With the implementation of these support policies, estimates indicate that by the end of 2021, the Russian poverty level should fall below pre-pandemic levels.

The impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Russia is substantial. The pandemic has witnessed a spike in unemployment and poverty overall. Additionally, the pandemic disproportionately impacts vulnerable populations within Russia, such as already impoverished citizens and migrant workers. Despite these hardships, Russian NGOs have stepped in to assist Russians. Predictions indicate that government support policies will largely reverse COVID-19’s impact on Russian poverty during 2021.

Coulter Layden
Photo: Flickr

Wildfires in SiberiaIn the summer of 2021, Russia experienced the driest weather in 150 years which caused wildfires in Siberia. Smoke covers the Yakutia region in particular and is destroying the Taiga forest around Teryut. Locals to this area, in part blaming an inadequate response to the fires by the Russian government, are beginning to help fight the fires.

What is at Stake

In 2020, the wildfires in Siberia destroyed 60,000 square miles of forest and tundra. This is equivalent to four times the area that burned in the United States in the same year.

For Russia, this means that the fires destroy drastic amounts of the boreal forest. It also releases tons of carbon into the atmosphere. This can contribute to higher temperatures overall. The forests in Siberia also have permafrost beneath them. This is part of the earth that stays frozen all year long. When fires blaze through the area, the permafrost melts, altering the dynamic of the forest itself. Instead of being the forest it has always been, the area has become much more swamp-like.

In the Yakutia region in particular, where the fires are decimating the Taiga forest, villagers’ livelihoods are at stake. People typically rely on the forest for food, including berries and meat. Additionally, they use wood to build structures and for warmth. The destruction of this resource can have a detrimental impact on the people who live there, especially the people who cannot afford to relocate.

Wildfires and Poverty

The destruction that wildfires create has a disproportionate impact on people living in poverty. People living below the poverty line often do not have insurance protecting their houses from such a catastrophe. They also may not have the resources needed to either rebuild a destroyed house or to move to another area.

A study that the National Bureau of Economic Research completed released results in 2020 that analyzed 90 years of data recorded during natural disasters. It concluded that when natural disasters occur, the poverty rate in that country increases by about 1%. This is a result of the migration of higher-income people. However, those unable to move often end up in even worse conditions than before.

How Locals Have Stepped in for the Government

One reason why the local villagers are volunteering to join fire fighting crews is the lack of response from the Russian government. The locals have put the main blame for the wildfires on the government’s unpreparedness for such a disaster. The government made budget cuts to forestry and banned getting rid of dry grass in high-risk areas and the hot summers.

The Russian government turned to conspiracy theories this time. It hypothesized that people hoping to make a profit set the fires on purpose. There are ongoing criminal investigations against authorities for not doing enough to fight the fires.

Most Recently

Locals have been doing the best they can given their lack of training and preparedness. Thankfully, the Russian government has recognized the severity of the situation in Siberia and has sent military planes in to assist the fight. These planes have dropped an estimated 370 tons of water onto the fires covering 2 million acres of land.

With the locals and the government working together, hopes are high that the joint effort can combat the fires effectively. While the government may not have done as much as it could have in the beginning, it did take action to help the situation. Hopefully, it will be able to effectively help to fight and prevent wildfires in Siberia in the future. In order to help and protect those living under the poverty line, this will likely be necessary.

– Alessandra Heitmann
Photo: Flickr

COVID-19 Vaccination in San MarinoSan Marino is a small Southern European state surrounded by Italy. Despite having a small population of just 33,000 people and a mountainside location, the country is surprisingly one of the wealthiest in the world based on GDP per capita. San Marino acquires most of its wealth from tourism and the sale of local goods. However, the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic nearly destroyed the country’s tourism industry. The campaign for COVID-19 vaccinations in San Marino will allow the economy to recover as industries begin to reopen, igniting economic activity.

The Impact of COVID-19

In terms of the poverty rate in San Marino, minimal data exists. But, like the rest of the world, San Marino’s economy has also experienced adverse impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic. During the pandemic, tourism rates decreased due to stay-at-home orders and travel restrictions. Before the pandemic, the small country averaged around two million tourists in 2019, a clear indication of the significant economic role of the tourism sector. With regard to COVID-19 rates, San Marino has confirmed 5,092 cases and 90 deaths. The campaign for COVID-19 vaccinations in San Marino has been successful due to small population numbers and a steady supply of vaccines.

COVID-19 Vaccinations in San Marino

All of San Marino’s people have either been partially or completely vaccinated against COVID-19. The country administered mostly Sputnik V vaccines after signing a deal with Russia. Starting May 17, 2021, San Marino is offering a COVID-19 vaccine holiday package to boost tourism with an incentive. The holiday package allows non-residents access to vaccines in San Marino by booking accommodation for a certain duration at one of 19 hotels.

“The initiative is open only to those coming from countries that Italy has opened up to for tourism.” Two separately administered Sputnik V doses are available at a cost of €50. To receive the second dose of the vaccine, tourists must return to the country and stay in a hotel for at least three days. This way, San Marino makes up for its loss of tourism revenue while helping to eradicate the virus with vaccines.

The Road to Recovery

More than 66% of the population has been fully vaccinated through the campaign for COVID-19 vaccinations in San Marino. With no patients hospitalized for COVID-19, the country is effectively controlling its COVID-19 infections. With an adequate vaccine supply to cover its population, San Marino has found an innovative way to put the vaccine surplus to good use while boosting the tourism industry. The COVID-19 vaccination holiday package in San Marino is a unique solution to ignite economic recovery in the country. The offer has caught the attention of tourists who trust in the efficacy of the Sputnik V vaccine. Through innovative solutions, San Marino is finding creative  ways to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic

– Matt Orth
Photo: Flickr

Fetal Mortality Rate in Russia
The Russian Federation is the largest nation by land area in the world, and its approximately 146 million people, according to Worldometer, are remarkably diverse and varied across this vast territorial expanse. While this broad and beautiful nation has problems both similar and different to all nations of the world, one real issue that is relatable across all borders, regardless of culture, is the danger of losing one’s child at the time one gives birth. The fetal mortality rate in Russia is no exception.

This is a problem that purveys all species of animals, yet for humans, the struggle to survive childbirth has become easier in many places across the world with the succeeding decades. For Russia, remedying its fetal mortality rate will go hand in hand with fixing their nations own blighted poverty, as the two play off of one another in a Sisyphean loop.

The Poverty and Fetal Mortality Rate in Russia

The numbers across the board in 2021 are markedly better than those at the start of the century. However, in comparison to 50 years ago, the fetal mortality rate in Russia has actually been improving at a steady rate, even as national poverty, currently at just 13% nationally, continues on its own uneven road.

The U.N. Inter-Agency Group for Child Mortality Estimation estimates that nationally in 1970, approximately every 31 out of 1,000 births resulted in the death of the child in the Soviet Union. That number is today on par with the fetal mortality rate of far poorer nations, yet during this time, the Soviet Union was, under Leonid Brezhnev, still a powerful, if declining, force across the globe. The succeeding decades have since produced a consistent decline in these numbers, yet they have remained alarming to varying degrees, and for varying constituents, during this time.

By 2002, a bit more than a decade after the fall of the Soviet Union, the Russian Federation, now led by ex-KGB agent Vladimir Putin, had shaved the number of estimated infant deaths per 1,000 children nationally from approximately 31 to 14.8 across 30 years. However, regions and cities like Tula, amongst the poorest regions in Russia, still recorded nearly 17 per 1,000. But, as a scathing report on the conditions on the ground told at the time, even these numbers, high as they are, might yet be untrustworthy and lower than in reality.

In this report, the infant mortality rate in St. Petersburg in 2001 was just 9.3 per 1,000 births. Meanwhile, in the region of Chuktskity Okrug, that number was actually more than four times higher than the national average at just over 42 per 1,000 live births. Therefore, one can surely conclude that the wealth and internal infrastructure of the region certainly has a part to play in the fetal mortality rate both regionally and nationally.

The Numbers Today

Today, the national number has continued to shrink in comparison to the old data, yet this onus remains a terrible burden on the massively expansive nation; in 2019, estimates determined that Russia had only 4.93 infant deaths on a national scale, which is a far cry from approximately 31 out of 1,000 just slightly more than 50 years ago. While Russia’s rates have officially dropped, again buoyed by the more readily available healthcare of the larger cities like Moscow, the country’s official standing regarding the fetal mortality rate is nuanced.

However, while some facts change across the decades, other things remain the same. Available reports from all of these periods show that the nation was not infrastructurally integrated enough to sustain mothers or their children with the necessary resources, education or medical attention. Today, like in 2010, 2000 and 1970, the poorest regions in the federation, as well as within cities themselves, continue to suffer this trauma and unfair indignity at higher rates than their city-dwelling fellow citizens.

Russia: Between a Proverbial Rock and Hard Place

With sanctions against Russia omnipresent and the nation’s government itself outwardly hostile towards global nonprofits since 2012, external as well as internal human rights and advocacy groups have struggled to positively affect change. Population and Development was a Russian NGO that focused primarily on the promotion and protection of the reproductive health of Russian citizens before it shut down alongside so many others. The United States Agency for International Development, which has previously invested time and energy towards the betterment of Russian society through education and health initiatives, has had limited power and prestige in Russia in the years since 2012, as the country kicked it out in September of that year. Vladimir Putin’s government’s newest crackdown in April 2021 has left still fewer external or internal options for advocates to effectively affect positive change across the society, apart from the World Bank.

While the Russian government has largely discontinued or silenced internal and external assistance, cooperation with the World Bank has continued and might be the surest recourse for the fetal mortality rate in Russia. While Vladimir Putin has said that “Russia’s fate and its historic prospects depend on how many of us there are…,” his government alone has not been up to fixing all that ails the nation’s fetal mortality rate, and so continues to place its population in the most dangerous of positions. On the other hand, since 1992, the World Bank has been helping the Russian Federation advance the internal dynamics of their nation, from the hard and soft infrastructure necessary to producing stable economic circumstances to the education and resources necessary to create healthy environments for mothers to have, and then subsequently care for, their children.

Helping Russia

In such an unforgiving natural environment, the people require all of the help they can to sustain themselves and their families from generation to generation. Ultimately, organizations like the United Nations, USAID, Population and Development and other organizations can still help Russia with its poverty and fetal mortality rate, should they only receive the chance to do so once again.

– Trent Nelson
Photo: Flickr

Corruption in Russia and Its Effects on Poverty
In 2018, the Russian government set the goal of halving poverty levels in the country by 2024. However, recent revelations of corruption among Russian officials threaten progress towards such a goal. One is the case of President Vladimir Putin’s usage of ₽100 billion, about $1 billion, of stolen taxpayer money to build his extravagant palace. Here is an explanation of corruption in Russia and its effects on poverty.

“Comrade Capitalism”

Corruption in Russia is primarily based on the merging of public services and private interests. In 2005, President Putin created a $1 billion program to improve the country’s healthcare system, as average life expectancy declined significantly after the fall of the Soviet Union. According to a 2014 Reuters investigation titled “Comrade Capitalism,” this program helped to fund the construction of President Putin’s palace on the Black Sea and enrich two of his closest associates, Dmitry Gorelov and Nikolai Shamalov.

Shamalov was involved in the construction and preparation of new hospitals. Gorelov and Shamalov used multiple intermediaries to increase their profits while providing medical equipment to the Russian government. One of those intermediaries was a company based in Washington, D.C., that received approximately $50 million for providing construction materials for President Putin’s palace.

Poverty in Russia During COVID-19

Although the Reuters investigation is 7 years old, its revelations of Russian corruption are particularly timely during the COVID-19 pandemic. Working-class cities in Russia have experienced the most impact. A report from The Moscow Times covers Ivanovo, Russia, a city located four hours away from Moscow that was once the center of Russia’s textile industry but has struggled during the pandemic. High unemployment rates and low monthly salaries contribute to a broader trend of doctors leaving the city seeking employment elsewhere. Since many of the available jobs in the city are in construction, security and shop work, most residents are unable to shelter in place to control the spread of COVID-19. As a result, all hospitals in the city are almost at full capacity. Moreover, the city’s healthcare chief is looking to purchase more refrigerators because the morgues are full.

Expanded Social Welfare in Russia

In response to the increased poverty rates that the pandemic caused, the Russian government has expanded social welfare programs. The most successful and widely used type of social assistance is cash transfers. The integration of cash transfers with employment support and social inclusion services was highly successful in the Republic of Tatarstan. The Republic of Tatarstan created a program called the Tatarstan Social Assistance System Development Project in collaboration with the World Bank. Since the establishment of this program, an increase in opportunities and financial support has occurred for people in Tatarstan. Thankfully, experts expect this trend to continue.

“Palace for Putin” Hits a Nerve

Alexei Navalny, President Putin’s most public political rival, wrote a documentary in January 2021 called “Palace for Putin.” It covered President Putin’s rise to power, the extent of his estate on the Black Sea and the people in his immediate circle that enrich themselves at the expense of the Russian people. Navalny’s team enlisted the help of an outraged palace contractor to provide an insider view of the secretive estate. Leaked floor plans of the palace reveal countless swimming pools, halls and extra bedrooms for entertaining guests. The property also has a hockey rink and amphitheater, in addition to other lavish accommodations.

For many Russians experiencing a decreased standard of living and increased inequality, this documentary was the last straw. On January 23, 2021, protests broke out as a result of Navalny’s recent arrest and corruption in Russia. While other protests of Russia’s recent history took place exclusively in big cities, these are quite different. Not only are the protests spread across the country, but younger generations are leading them. Hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets, some in temperatures far below freezing, to express their frustrations.

Although the protests were mostly peaceful, police forcefully dispersed protests, citing COVID-19 concerns, and detained thousands of protesters, violating the freedom of assembly outlined in the Russian constitution. Navalny’s February 2, 2021 trial and sentencing for violating parole further attracted protesters, hundreds of whom authorities arrested outside of the Moscow court where the hearing took place.

Response from the United States

On September 23, 2020, Representative James P. McGovern [D-MA-2] introduced a resolution condemning Russian authorities for the suspicious poisoning of Alexei Navalny and calling for an investigation of the poisoning as use of chemical weapons, which is a violation of international law. The resolution passed in the House of Representatives on November 18, 2020.

One week after taking office, President Biden had his first phone call with President Vladimir Putin, in which they agreed to extend New START, the U.S.-Russia arms control deal. President Biden also confronted him about the recent SolarWinds hack and the arrest of Alexei Navalny. The U.S. president’s tone with President Putin was less sympathetic than that of his predecessor. Additionally, the Biden administration has taken interest in the recent protests in Russia. This is because they reveal weaknesses in Russian domestic politics that tarnish Putin’s image as a leader with complete control. The renewed desire for honesty and accountability among the Russian people presents an opportunity for the United States to engage with Russian society.

Moving Forward

Corruption in Russia is extremely frustrating to the average citizen. With corruption among top national officials, Navalny’s arrest and pandemic-induced decreased living standards, it is clear to see why. In order for average Russian lives to improve, the social safety net must undergo expansion. If Russia continues following the example of the Republic of Tatarstan and the Biden administration continues to invest in the well-being of Russian citizens, corruption in Russia and its effects on poverty should slowly but surely improve.

– Sydney Thiroux
Photo: Unsplash