Inflammation and stories on russia

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

Examining The Ukrainian Path ForwardIn 2013, tens of thousands of Ukrainian citizens took to the streets to protest the government’s decision to abandon an agreement with the European Union. Ukrainians saw this move as a political realignment with Russia after years of economic and political grudges had nearly pushed the country in the opposite direction towards the E.U. and the West. There did not seem to be a Ukrainian path forward; for many, this was a step backward. The protests sent a clear message of the Ukrainian people’s deep-seated frustration with their government. This frustration compounded with Ukraine’s choice to remain more closely tied to Russia than with its western neighbors. By February 2014, then-President Yanukovych had fled to Russia and the opposition government stepped in. Then, in March 2014, the fate of Ukrainians turned irrevocably grim as Russia began a thinly-veiled invasion.

Invasion, Annexation and Occupation

Many still regard Russia’s annexation of Crimea as a breach of international law according to its membership of the United Nations, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and its signing of the Budapest Memorandum in 1994. It met with harsh sanctions from the U.S., E.U. and several other nations, many of which targeted Russia’s lucrative oil and gas exports. Despite international condemnation, Russia was at it again the next month.

Pro-Russian separatists in the eastern Ukrainian cities of Donetsk and Luhansk declared independence from Ukraine. They soon received military assistance in their fight against the Ukrainian military. Support came in the form of what has become widely known as “little green men.” Russian troops had already occupied Crimea, but they were also assisting the separatist movements in the newly-declared autonomous zones in the Donbass region. They supplied light and heavy arms, troops and tactical assistance. All this has led to a conflict that remains unresolved to this day. The conflict remains frozen in constantly-violated ceasefires without a clear end in sight. Russia still receives much of the blame from the international community.

The Kremlin Strategy

The war claimed 14,000 lives since 2014, displaced millions of Ukrainians and sent Ukraine’s economy in turmoil, begging the question of why Russia has been willing to commit to this volatile conflict. The answer lies in defense. Ukraine is one of the key former Soviet states that form a buffer zone around Russia’s eastern border. The border has seen numerous invasions throughout history and, according to “The Red Line” podcast, “after World War II, Russia decided that it never again wanted to be only 1,200 kilometers from [its] enemy’s position.”

The Ukrainian path forward is currently at a crossroads. If the country aligns itself with the West, Russia would face a major geopolitical loss. Russia maintains the conflict largely because it provides for the existence of three territorial disputes within Ukraine. This bars it from joining the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) as a country cannot join the Western alliance if it has any outstanding territorial disputes or conflicts. A similar strategy has worked for Russia in Georgia, Moldova and Azerbaijan. This does not, however, mean that there is no hope for an end to the violence.

Peace by Any Means

In the seven years following the Russo-Ukrainian conflict, a long brigade of ceasefires, peace agreements and mounting international pressure to end the violence have occurred. Perhaps the most notable successes were the Minsk Protocol of 2014 and the subsequent Minsk II Agreement in 2015. The Minsk II Agreement included steps towards a ceasefire, monitoring from the OSCE and the assertion that economic recovery was necessary in the regions the conflict affected the most. The latter attempted to build upon limited successes from the past year, but the ceasefires have followed a consistent pattern of violations along the so-called “security zone.” Aside from two prisoner swaps, increased humanitarian assistance and successive ceasefires in the past two years, a clear Ukrainian path forward to lasting peace still appears blocked.

A Shift in Foreign Engagement

The leaders of Germany and France have spearheaded the majority of peace talks and negotiations. However, the Biden Administration brings hope to the international community that the U.S. will become more involved in negotiations. Increased involvement would help the Ukrainian path forward, rather than Ukraine continuing to rely on defensive aid to its government. Antony Blinken’s nomination to Secretary of State has garnered even more speculation about the possible benefits for the Ukrainian people. The Atlantic Council maintained that “Blinken played an influential role in the imposition of sanctions against Russia over the 2014 invasion of Crimea and eastern Ukraine.” It is true that the ratcheting up of economic sanctions could force Russia back to the negotiating table. Hopefully this time with genuine aspirations of cooling the conflict down.

Scott Mistler-Ferguson
Photo: Flickr

Russia’s AIDS EpidemicAmid a global pandemic, Russia is fighting a medical war on two fronts; as Russia deals with the spread of COVID-19, Russia’s AIDS epidemic is worsening. As the HIV  infection rate continues to decline in the rest of Europe, the transmission rate of HIV in Russia has been increasing by 10 to 15% yearly. This increase in transmission is comparable to the yearly increase in transmission of HIV in the United States in the 1980s at the height of the AIDS epidemic.

The AIDS Epidemic in Russia

Among other factors, the erosion of effective sexual health education and a rise in the use of opioids has led to a stark increase in the transmission of HIV/AIDS in Russia. The epidemic of AIDS in Russia has received little attention from the Russian Government and the international community, partly because of the nation’s social orthodoxy and the stigma surrounding drug use and HIV/AIDS.

The Silent Spread of HIV

A significant number of Russians infected with HIV are those who inject drugs. Roughly 2.3% (1.8 million) of Russian adults inject drugs, making Russia the nation in Eastern Europe with the highest population of those who inject drugs. Due to the stigma associated with drug use as well as the threat of harsh criminal punishment, few drug users who have been affected by HIV seek treatment. A study from the Society for the Study of Addiction found that in St. Petersburg only one in 10 Russians who inject drugs and are living with HIV currently access treatment.

A large part of the stigma surrounding AIDS in Russia comes from the return of traditionalism to the Russian government following the election of Vladamir Putin in 2012 and the strong connection between the traditionalist Russian Orthodox Church and the Russian Government. The Orthodox Church, in particular, has blocked efforts to instate sex education programs in schools and campaigns to give easier access to safe sex tools like condoms. While methadone is used worldwide to treat opioid addiction to lower the use of drug injection and therefore HIV transmission, the Russian Government has banned methadone. Any person caught supplying methadone faces up to 20 years in prison.

HIV During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Studies conducted during 2020 have shown that Russians living with HIV and AIDS have faced difficulties in accessing treatment. According to UNAIDS, 4% of Russians living with HIV reported missing medical treatment due to the pandemic and roughly 30% of respondents reported that their treatment was somehow impacted by the pandemic.

The same study found that HIV-positive Russians had a positive COVID-19 diagnosis at a rate four times higher than HIV-negative Russians. However, HIV-positive Russians were less likely to seek medical attention for COVID-19 despite the high health risks, such as a weaker immune system that can accompany HIV. More Russians are contracting HIV yearly but the stigma of living with HIV is preventing HIV-positive Russians from seeking medical treatment.

Destigmatizing HIV/AIDs in Russia

With little national attention paid to the epidemic of AIDS in Russia, the movement for change has come from individuals looking to give visibility to and destigmatize HIV/AIDS. In 2015, after television news anchor, Pavel Lobkov, announced on-air that he had been living with AIDS since 2003, Russian doctors including Lobkov’s own doctor, saw a surge in people seeking HIV tests and treatment. In a nation where AIDS is highly stigmatized, a national celebrity showing that one can live a normal life with AIDS brought comfort to many Russians living with HIV/AIDS.

More Russians living with HIV/AIDS have made efforts to shed light on Russia’s HIV epidemic and destigmatize HIV to the public as well as in the medical community. Patients in Control, a nongovernmental organization run by two HIV-positive Russians, Tatiana Vinogradova and Andrey Skvortsov, set up posters around St. Petersburg that read “People with HIV are just like you and me,” and encourage HIV-positive Russians to seek antiretroviral treatment. HIV-positive Russians like Skvortsov and Vinogradova are trying to bring national attention to a health crisis that is seldom discussed, hoping to create a national conversation and put pressure on Russian officials to take action on the worsening epidemic.

A Call for Urgent Action

HIV-positive Russians and AIDS activists like Skvortsov have argued that until the Russian Government puts forth an “urgent, full forced response” to Russia’s AIDS epidemic, the rate of transmission will continue to climb. Many Russians on the ground are making public campaigns to destigmatize and normalize living with HIV, hoping to persuade the government to take action.

In 2018 alone, AIDS took the lives of 37,000 people across Russia. As of May 2020, more than 340,000 Russians have died of AIDS. While the social atmosphere of Russia, influenced by Putin’s government and the Orthodox Church, has created a shroud of secrecy and shame surrounding the AIDS epidemic, many HIV-positive Russians hope that the intensity of the epidemic will force the Russian Government to make a concerted effort to address Russia’s AIDS epidemic.

Kieran Graulich
Photo: Flickr

Elderly Poverty in Russia
Nearly a quarter of a century has passed since the Soviet Union dissolved and the subsequent Russian Federation emerged. With nearly 20 million people living in poverty, the transition to a capitalist nation has certainly not been an easy one for Russia’s citizens. Before assessing the subject of elderly poverty in Russia, it may be helpful to explore some of the causes and consequences of pervasive poverty throughout the population.

Wealth Inequality is Rampant

While nearly 14% of its population lives below the poverty line, and 20-30% considers itself poor, Russia’s fiscal policy ultimately favors the rich. One may observe this in the fact that 50% of Russia’s pre-tax national income goes to the top 10%. Relative to the size of its economy, Russia has the highest number of billionaires compared to any other large country — its wealth stratification being the worst out of all the countries included in the World Inequality Database.

Russia is Relatively Unproductive

According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), Russia ranks 39th out of the 42 reported countries. One can attribute this to several consequences resulting from its state capitalism, which include weak institutions and corruption. Foreign direct investment (FDI) has fallen especially within the past few years after the implementation of sanctions following the annexation of Crimea. Moreover, Russia’s labor force is set to shrink between now and 2050 as a result of constraint in growth from its aging population — that being, more young people are leaving Russia while the elderly will require more comprehensive improvements in health care and long-term care.

Post-Soviet Hardship

After the economic collapses of 1991 and 1998, many Russians lost their life’s savings. The transition to a capitalist economic system has had a substantial negative effect on the older generation (age 50 and up), which represents nearly 35% of the population.

While much of the data reported on elderly poverty in Russia contradicts, reports have determined that upwards of 70% of aging couples are poor. Because of this, a justified concern exists around Russia’s consistently aging population, as it faces an even higher risk of poverty – invoking a necessity to investigate and address the country’s aging issue and economic instability.

Limited Public Assistance

According to the Global AgeWatch Index, Russia ranks 65th out of 96 countries when considering the population’s well-being, life expectancy and mental health. Furthermore, the pensions have neither kept up with inflation nor the country’s average earnings, as the average pensioner in Russia receives the equivalent of €180 per month – barely enough to live on.

Unfortunately, Russia has limited resources for the elderly who are either disabled or suffering from dementia and other ailments. Social services and state aid are often expensive and inaccessible to the older generation – wrapped up in a multitude of bureaucratic requirements. Those who do not have a family to receive care from often end up homeless or in nursing homes with “warehouse” conditions.

Bettering Conditions

Fortunately, organizations exist that are continuously working to improve the consequential conditions of elderly poverty in Russia. One such organization is Enjoyable Aging. The depressing conditions of poverty and loneliness in nursing homes in Russia struck Lisa Oleskina, who started the organization in 2006.

Today, Enjoyable Aging employs nurses who adopt a standard of individual care for elderly patients living in nursing homes. Loneliness is a serious concern for Russia’s elderly, and poverty can certainly exacerbate this issue. Enjoyable Aging combats loneliness through organizing events and regular correspondence with facility residents in more than 120 nursing homes in Russia.

Further Signs of Improvement

As with the rest of the world, Russia has faced an economic downturn amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, with the nation’s unemployment rate increasing to its highest in eight years (6.3%). A recent spike in cases could potentially push the country into further economic turbulence that will have a substantial impact on the older generation. However, prior to the pandemic, Russia was on track to see long-term economic growth.

Although progress had been slow, the World Bank reported as recently as September 2020 on Russia’s promising improvements in its human capital development – most notably, the country’s reductions in adult and child mortality rates. Nevertheless, as the population’s average age continues to rise, a necessity to significantly improve funding for the country’s public health care remains. Prioritizing long-term physical and mental needs is essential to lift up the most vulnerable within a developing economy.

– Alessandra Parker
Photo: Flickr

Human Trafficking in Russia
As it stands, Russia is one of the largest hubs of human trafficking and has some of the weakest laws fighting against it. In fact, the Global Slavery Index states that about 794,000 victims survive in the former U.S.S.R. Even so, many organizations are stepping up to eliminate human trafficking in Russia while Russia’s federal government is failing to act.

The Situation

The United States Trafficking in Persons Report (TIP) 2020 lists Russia alongside Iran and China as a Tier 3 country because it does not meet the minimum standards in the fight against the criminal industry. Since 2003, the Russian Parliament passed only one bill related to human trafficking in Russia whilst the former countries of the Soviet Union implemented hundreds of laws. Even then, the law is vague and fails to comply with the definitions that the U.N. set.

While sex trafficking is a major problem, most instances of human trafficking in Russia relate to forced labor. In the TIP report for 2019, North Korean workers, likely “engaged in informal labor,” received approximately 20,000 student visas and tourist visas. As authorities declined to investigate instances of trafficking, reports showed evidence that the North Korean government held forced labor work camps in Russia. Despite this systemic abuse, no federal help came to assist victims or prosecute the perpetrators.

 The 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics and 2018 FIFA World Cup enriched Russia’s economy but under the backs of tens of thousands of unpaid workers. According to the Harvard International Review, about 70,000 foreign laborers worked on these two projects. Reportedly, they suffered under terrible conditions and those who did receive pay did not have any way to get back home. Considering the situation of trafficking in Russia, some NGOs are making sure victims obtain justice.

Alternativa

Also known as The Alternative, human rights activist Oleg Melikov originally founded the NGO in response to political corruption and environmental harm. The organization has rescued over 1,000 victims of modern slavery, including a much-publicized case of a man forced to work in a Dagestani brick plant. The backlash forced the Dagestani government to create stricter labor laws and tighter rules for people to enter public busses.

Help Services For Nigerians in Russia

Specifically fighting for the protection of Nigerians against sex trafficking, this organization is responsible for saving over 240 women from slavery. This work is directly due to Nigerian-born activist Oluremi Banwo Kehinde. Since 2015, he has provided temporary housing, coordinated official documentation and referred victims for medical treatment. As a result of his work, then-Secretary of State John Kerry regarded Kehinde as a Trafficking in Persons Hero in 2016.

Eurasia Foundation

Founded in 1992 following the Soviet Union’s fall, Eurasia Foundation is a massive organization spanning from Eastern Europe to Uzbekistan. Its focus is on assisting community initiatives, providing scholarships and promoting global education. Eurasia Foundation hosted a forum on combating human trafficking in Central Asia, including Russia. For five days, experts, government officials and others analyzed methods to solve modern slavery. They even highlighted the plausibility that the COVID-19 pandemic may strengthen the anonymity of traffickers. EF’s forums resulted in local organizations being better able to protect survivors and prosecute criminals. With psychosociological therapy and practical learning, over 300 persons experienced reintegration into society in the first nine months of 2020.

The tragedy of human trafficking in Russia is real, but these international heroes are working to assist the victims and provide real solutions. What each of these organizations has in common is an altruistic desire to ease suffering, even at the expense of safety.

– Zachary Sherry
Photo: Flickr

Public Health and Education
Russia is a country located in Eastern Europe and Northern Asia. Russia is one of 10 nations that the World Bank has recognized for the greatest improvements to public health and education over the last decade. This improvement in human capital has had positive implications for the country’s economic and social prosperity. Here is some information about public health and education in Russia.

Improvements in Health

Russia has made strides in improving public health care since the collapse of the Soviet Union. In the 1990s, the country’s health care system was underfunded and lacked resources, which resulted in many people being unable to receive treatment for common illnesses. In the 30 years since, Russia has vastly reformed and improved this system. Here are three ways that Russia amended its healthcare system.

  1. Quality Improvement Methodology – U.S. and Russian Federal officials worked together with the Quality Assurance Project (QAP) to implement quality improvement methods in doctor’s offices and hospitals, some examples being increased focus on patients, teamwork and use of data. Officials sought to set attainable and realistic goals for improvement that the country could fulfill in the foreseeable future.
  2. Increased Health Financing – Officials sought to direct more money into the health care system, using several methods including establishing payroll taxes for employers and private financing through commercial companies. In addition, the financing of health care was decentralized to regional and local levels to decrease strain on the national budget. Furthermore, larger cities used voluntary health insurance as a way for employers to purchase access to higher-level facilities.
  3. Pharmaceutical Reforms – Several reforms have emerged to better regulate pharmaceutical prices and production. For example, vital and essential drug lists set products at a fixed price at the federal level. This management of drug prices has increased medicinal accessibility for low-income Russians.

These measures have had several implications for overall public health improvements. Several previously common ailments have drastically decreased in prevalence. For example, pregnancy-induced hypertension, which occurred among 43.8% of women in 1998, is only present among 5.6% of women presently. In addition, better use of resources has cut costs for medical treatment of several conditions; hypertension treatment costs, for example, have decreased by 41% since the 1990s. In the future, Russia’s health care system will continue to develop with focuses on further increasing accessibility and developing primary healthcare.

Improvements in Education

Russia has demonstrated a strong education system, and the quality of education is continually improving as enrollment in higher education increases. Here are three improvements that Russia has made to its education system.

  1. State Education Strategy – Russia’s education system has incorporated a standardized curriculum, including clear milestones, implementation metrics and an action plan. This regularity has improved the quality of education nationwide by establishing the same educational expectations across all regions. In addition, the organization of two ministries, the Education Ministry and the Science and Higher Education Ministry, have improved the management of the quality of secondary and higher education.
  2. Increase in Higher Education Enrollment – From 2013 to 2017, enrollment in Russian universities increased by 40%. In addition, Russia boasts about 200,000 international students, a figure which expectations have determined could triple in the coming years. Furthermore, higher education in Russia is more affordable than Western higher education, increasing access to education for those in rural regions and low-income communities.
  3. Private Education Reform – In recent years, Russia has experienced an increase in investment in private education, with more wealthy Russians sending their children to private schools with Western-style curriculums. In accompaniment with this, teachers have been moving to Russia from other countries to teach in these schools, many coming from Britain in particular to teach English curriculums. Along with this, Russia has been cracking down on private institutions pushing ideologically irresponsible messages, limiting access to fraudulent or incomplete educations.

These measures have drastically improved the overall quality of education in Russia, which has led to increased expected years of schooling and improvements in secondary school enrollment. An overall better-educated population will be more productive in the long-term, as they will be able to transition into a competitive job market more easily and produce greater economic outcomes.

Conclusion

Education quality is strong in Russia and performance expectations are high. Health outcomes, however, are a work in progress, with Russia’s public health quality lying below the global average. Improvements in this sector will not only allow this gap to reduce but will also increase the quality of Russia’s human capital.

According to Renaud Seligmann, the World Bank Country Director in Russia, “Human capital contributes greatly to improving economic growth in every country. Investments in knowledge and health that people accumulate during their lives are of paramount concern to governments around the world.” By increasing the quality of public health and education in Russia, the country is making an investment in its population for years to come, guaranteeing that future generations will have longer life expectancies and educational attainment than those that came before them.

– Natasha Cornelissen
Photo: Flickr

Women’s Rights in Russia
Russia is somewhat infamous for its history of oppression and human rights abuses. Often in the news for things like unfair elections or police brutality, gender equality is a less-reported topic, but nonetheless a pervasive and damaging systemic issue. Here are five facts about women’s rights in Russia.

5 Facts About Women’s Rights in Russia

  1. Russian women are equal in theory, but not in practice. The Constitution of Russia, adopted in 1993, guarantees equal rights for women and men. Even before that, the Bolshevik Revolution granted women’s rights in Russia– including suffrage– in 1917. However, women are still fighting inequality in many sectors, including the professional realm. People in Russia expect women to prioritize motherhood over professional development because of Russia’s low fertility rate. Citing a belief that strenuous jobs pose a threat to women’s safety and reproductive health, the government has barred women from occupations like aircraft repair, construction and firefighting. While the country passed reforms in 2019 to reduce the number of restricted jobs from 456 to 100, they will not come into effect until 2021. However, some of the largest industries, like mining and electric engineering, remain in the barred category.
  2. More women are in poverty than men. In addition to legal barriers to job opportunities, traditional gender roles box women out of professions like politics. Women earn on average 30% less than a man, one of the largest wage gaps among high-income countries. Even in professions where the wage gap is the smallest, like in the education sector, there is a 20% difference in average salary. Women also do a significant amount of unpaid work– estimates have determined that the loss to the annual budget due to gender segregation is 40-50% in Russia. Were Russia to offer equal resources in agriculture to all genders, it could raise food production by 30%. Higher poverty rates for women affect not only women but the children they raise. Impoverished women often cannot afford higher education for their children, which limits the children’s upwards economic mobility. Therefore, the cycle of poverty is perpetuated because of systemic gender discrimination putting mothers in positions where they cannot give their children better lives.
  3. Russian women face threats to their physical safety– and the police stand by. Domestic violence as a whole– which disproportionately victimizes women– is a serious threat to women’s rights in Russia. In January 2017, Russia decriminalized domestic violence that does not cause serious injury– meaning broken bones or a concussion– for first-time offenders. Since most victims do not report their abuse, most “first-time offenders” are actually long-time abusers. In addition, police officers routinely ignore domestic disturbance calls. When officers do respond, they often refuse to criminally prosecute instead of telling victims to prosecute privately. This is economically unfeasible for many women and effectively places the onus of an entire subgroup of law enforcement on the victim rather than the state. Decriminalization of domestic violence has rendered the statistics on it unreliable, but statistics have shown that most cases do not end up in court. If women cannot receive the assurance of their physical safety under Russian law and society, their overall rights are under severe threat.
  4. Learned attitudes reinforce gender inequality. Every Russian man that the Levada Center polled, regardless of age group, responded that the most desirable quality in a woman was that she had to be a good homemaker. This attitude pervades across gender lines: younger Russian women answered that attractiveness was the best quality, but by age 30, the women agreed that their most desirable quality was to be a good homemaker for a man. When pollsters asked the equivalent question about desirable qualities in a man, both men and women ranked intelligence as the most important trait in a man. Men, however, ranked intelligence in a woman as sixth or seventh on their list of 15 traits. But before one can solely cast the blame for gender inequality on men, women ranked independence as least important for themselves. Older women’s answers matched that of the men– the mothers and grandmothers teaching the sons their societal values. No one gender is at fault for the perpetuation of gender inequality; instead, it is a product of Russian culture and society that each generation has passed on to the next.
  5. The feminism movement in Russia is growing every year. Hundreds instead of dozens of women attend marches and protests now, especially against the controversial decriminalization of domestic violence. The work of leaders like Leda Garina and Zalina Marshenkulov has fostered the growth of feminism in the public consciousness. Despite facing arrests and threats, activists and organizations are persisting in getting the message of gender equality out to the public. Innovations in technology and social media make information more accessible to the Russian people and change the perception of feminism from a dirty, Western word to something necessary to Russian society. New venues are cropping up in big cities to aid women. For example, Cafe Simona in Saint Petersburg is a woman-only workspace and event space that allows women to go about their days without experiencing harassment. NGOs like Human Rights Watch also strive to inform both the domestic and international communities of the issues facing Russian women. Reporting by HRW and other media outlets on Yulia Tsvetkova, a feminist blogger who underwent and is a political prisoner, led to protests around the country. Despite crackdowns on NGOs under Putin’s “foreign agents” law, organizations are doing their best to get the word out about the situation in Russia.

People still need to do more to improve women’s rights in Russia. Nothing less than significant legal reforms are necessary to change the culture of misogyny in the country. Gender equality might be a long way off for Russian women, but because of activists and NGOs fighting for their rights under the law, hope is on the horizon.

– Brooklyn Quallen
Photo: Flickr

Reducing Poverty in Russia
Russia is the largest country in the world by landmass, and it covers an expansive 6.6 million miles. The country spans from Europe to Asia and shares 14 borders with neighboring states: Azerbaijan, Belarus, China, Estonia, Finland, Georgia, Kazakhstan, North Korea, Latvia, Lithuania, Mongolia, Norway, Poland and Ukraine. Despite the size of the country, it has a modest population of nearly 146 million people. However, poverty has taken a toll on the country’s people and reducing poverty in Russia will not be an easy task. An estimated 22% live in the “poverty zone,” which refers to the people unable to purchase anything other than items for subsisting. Furthermore, one-fifth of the total population lives in poverty, but Russian President Vladimir Putin has devised a plan to halve the poverty rate by 2024.

Poverty in the Soviet Union

The dissolution of the Soviet Union began on November 9, 1989, when the Berlin Wall, a structure intended to separate communist occupied East Germany from the west, came down. However, The Soviet Union dissolved on December 26, 1991, when Boris Yeltsin, the newly appointed Russian president, seized the reigns of an independent Russia from Mikhail Gorbachev.

Fifteen republics comprised the Soviet Union, and “at least 20 percent of the population” lived in poverty. As of 1989, the poverty level for a moderately sized family was $339.24 a month, or around $85 per person. At least 5 million families fell below the poverty line, and 20% of the overall population received 75 rubles per month.

At the time, there were no state plans to eliminate or reduce poverty, and no governmental support existed.

Poverty in the Pandemic

The pandemic has created a downward trend in the global economy, which has adversely affected Russia’s crude oil industry. This decline in the country’s economy is causing the ruble to weaken and Russia to enter a recession, creating an even bigger poverty problem for the 18.6 million people still living below the poverty line.

COVID-19 has proven to be an economic disaster for the Russian Federation and the World Bank projected a fall in GDP by 1% in 2020 due to the pandemic. Moreover, the World Bank anticipated a rise in the poverty rate to 2.2% in 2020 in comparison to 2.1% in 2019.

Poverty is Different Across Russia

Poverty in Russia is widespread and varies for rural and urban areas. For example, densely populated cities like Moscow and Saint Petersburg have a poverty rate below 8%, but in the case of rural regions, the Kalmyk Republic has 20% and the Tuva Republic has 40%.

People across the country experience poverty differently. In Siberia, villagers may struggle due to disproportionate job opportunities and little support from the state. In urban centers, citizens may lack proper skills to gain work or may have expensive medical bills, which hinders their ability to support themselves in other areas.

Reducing Poverty in Russia

As of 2018, the poverty rate was 13.2%, but the Russian Federation’s goal is to cut that in half. President Vladimir Putin aims to do this by 2024, reducing the poverty rate to 6.6%. According to the World Bank, the country would need a growth rate of 4.4% to achieve that reduction. The country could achieve its goal, but the annual growth would have to be 1.5% with the redistribution of 0.4% for GDP. Policy reforms that increase productivity and higher investment could boost the growth rate to 2.5%.

Russia’s progress at reducing poverty has been steady over the last decade due to oil prices, yet more work is necessary for it to improve. Additional assets could help push Russia, especially considering its low debt, energy resources and labor force. Russia is also ahead of other countries in space technology, which could bolster its economy further. Modernizing the economy is how reducing poverty in Russia will come into fruition. However, as of July 21, 2020, Putin has pushed his hefty goal of reducing poverty in Russia to 2030.

– Michael Santiago
Photo: Wikipedia Commons

Poverty in the former Soviet Union
The Soviet Union, also known as the USSR, was a state including several socialist republics in Eurasia. The USSR formed in 1922 following the first successful communist revolution in world history. The Soviet Union disbanded in 1991 and resulted in the formation of 15 independent nations. Meanwhile, poverty in the former Soviet Union nations ensued.

Life Before the Collapse

The Soviet government in each of the republics aspired to equally distribute services and goods within the formal sector. However, gross inequality existed within the Soviet Union, which was similar to the amount of inequality that capitalist countries faced at the time. This inequality combined with shortages in labor and goods in the final years of the Soviet Union led many people to join the informal sector where people could not regulate distribution.

The government’s control over the centralized state dwindled. The structural frameworks were able to do just enough to keep most people out of poverty. However, the Soviet government signed itself out of existence in 1991. Millions of people fell below the poverty line overnight. Additionally, crime, corruption and unemployment became increasingly prominent.

One of the most foreign outcomes of the worsening economy was inequality. An oligarchic class quickly formed, as people made and lost fortunes seemingly out of nowhere.

Poverty Factors

Following the dissolution, market forces overwhelmed a state that had virtually no market involvement for almost 70 years. In addition, funding for government-provided services declined, which left many people without the resources to survive.

Social services that the government provided tended to be poor in quality in order to meet a universal standard. The framework inherited from the former Soviet government proved unsuitable for helping transitioning economies.

The Policies

Poverty in the former Soviet Union was most prominent in the working population. Several of the newly independent states used this to their advantage when making reforms. For example, a labor market reform that had a major impact was engaging the private sector in employment. As a result, the new governments introduced welfare-to-work programs to build self-sufficiency among the people. In addition, private companies were in competition with labor offices to find jobs for the unemployed.

These newly independent states also improved through reform to social benefits. As a result of decentralized government services, the demographics of a specific state or region received better-suited services. One of the most successful forms of social benefit reform was pairing conditional cash benefits with behaviors that encourage social mobility. This way, people could use the resources they received to specifically help their economic status.

The Results

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the soaring poverty rates have steadily declined. Around 40 million people escaped poverty from 1998 to 2003, although there is some disparity in growth between urban and rural areas as well as between different economic classes.

The nations continue to move from a centrally controlled state economy to a privatized economy. Economic growth has been most lucrative for helping people in the former Soviet Union escape poverty.

While poverty continues to be a widespread issue around the world, countries with transitioning economies can look to the new governments in the former Soviet Union. They are a framework for how the government can use its demographic strengths to promote economic benefit for the people.

Camryn Anthony
Photo: Flickr

hunger in the russian federationUnder the reign of the Soviet Union, countless Russians suffered and died from starvation. Russia has an extensive history of famine and starvation; these have plagued the country for much of the last century. The oppressive regime misled the world and hid the harsh reality the people of Russia faced. Fortunately, the future is bright for the people of the Russian Federation because the rate of hunger has consistently declined in recent decades.

6 Facts About Hunger in the Russian Federation

  1. Poverty in Russia today: Although Russians do not face extreme poverty as they previously endured under the Soviet regime, 12.9% of Russians now live in poverty. The current poverty rate marks a significant achievement considering the poverty rate was as high as 24.6% in 2002. In the past two decades, the Russian economy embraced the privatization of industries. As a result, the economy substantially grew after it nearly collapsed following the demise of the previous Soviet regime. The rapid economic growth and reduction of poverty effectively addressed the problem of hunger in the Russian Federation.
  2. Improvements: As of 2000, approximately 5% of Russians were undernourished. Since the Russian Federation modernized and improved its economy, the rate of undernourishment was halved to 2.5% by 2005. The improved economy led to a rise in industry that provided more food and led to a decrease in hunger in the Russian Federation. Rapid economic development relatively eliminated the threat of food insecurity and hunger in the Russian Federation.
  3. Access to food: Access to food significantly improved when the government opened its markets to the rest of the world. This subsequently reduced the problem of hunger in the Russian Federation. The daily per capita caloric supply is 3,361 kcal per citizen per day, marking a substantial improvement from 2,877 kcal in 2000. After Russia’s economy struggled throughout the 90s following the collapse of the Soviet Union, the new leadership allowed the privatization of agricultural land and opened the economy to welcome new business. Due to a series of tax reforms and rapid economic growth, the Russian Federation’s daily caloric supply is higher than some wealthy nations such as Spain, Sweden, Japan and China.
  4. Diet and health: Although fewer Russians face hunger than ever before, many Russians needlessly suffer from non-communicable diseases due to unhealthy diets. The vast majority of Russian people consume enough food, but the quality of food decreased when the economy shifted away from agriculture.  The typical diet in Russia meets the necessary caloric needs, yet substantially lacks enough fruits and vegetables. These food are required for a healthy diet, and Russian diets often include too much unsaturated fat and sodium instead. The country’s frigid climate and permafrost are unsuitable for diverse agriculture. Due to the fact that 70% of Russia is in a permafrost zone, the country must import what it cannot grow. The country addressed the problem in 2010 when it signed the Food Security Doctrine and focused its efforts on independent domestic production. Russia renewed the doctrine in 2020 to include more fruits and vegetables.
  5. Obesity: Russia significantly tackled the problem of hunger and currently suffers the health consequences that are associated with obesity. Due to the country’s agriculture limitations, unhealthy diets fostered a nationwide rise in obesity. As of 2016, 23.1% of Russian adults were considered obese, which leads to higher rates of non-communicable diseases. To address the problem, the Russian Ministry of Health has earmarked $56 million dollars to promote healthy exercise habits and reduce smoking and drinking.
  6. Life expectancy: Despite the rise in obesity, life expectancy at birth rose from 65 years in 2000 to 72.6 years as of 2018. In the past two decades, the life expectancy in Russia rose at an unprecedented and consistent rate. During the period of recent economic growth, life expectancy in the Russian Federation reached a record high.

At the turn of the century, the Russian Federation modernized the economy and opened the doors for businesses to thrive. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Russian Federation faced financial peril but rapidly improved its economy from a GDP of $259 billion in 2000 to $1.65 trillion in 2018. The country recovered quickly, considering the collapse of the previous government, and the standard of living subsequently improved for the Russian people. The Russian Federation effectively addressed the problem of hunger and halved the poverty rate. Although the country still faces health issues stemming from obesity and a lack of fresh produce, the past two decades are a success story in the fight against hunger in the Russian Federation.

– Noah Kleinert
Photo: CIA.gov