Inflammation and stories on russia

Leaky Pipes? Infrastructure in RussiaDespite high levels of foreign investment and a thriving energy sector, the development and maintenance of infrastructure in Russia remains sluggish and disproportionately benefits a small elite. Russia is one of five major emerging economies grouped under the heading “BRICS”— Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa. Investment in infrastructure in Russia, however, lags behind other member nations, particularly India and China.

Even with overall low rankings in infrastructure investment, Russia remains an “energy superpower” as a major exporter of oil and natural gas. Indeed, one active area of infrastructure development in Russia is pushing pipelines through Central Asia towards China in an effort to solidify the country’s hold on that market.

This commanding position hasn’t necessarily translated into widely-shared prosperity for the people of Russia. Poverty in the world’s largest country is up by nearly 15 percent. The majority of economic gains go to a fairly small privileged class. As it stands, only 110 households hold between 19 percent to 85 percent of all Russian financial assets. This uneven distribution of prosperity is in large part due to endemic corruption in Russia, facilitated by weak government institutions, a legacy of the breakup of the Soviet Union.

This disregard of the law threatens the future of investment for infrastructure in Russia. Andrey Movchan, senior fellow and director of the Economic Policy Program at the Carnegie Moscow Center, opines that due to corruption state investment in infrastructure not only would likely fail to revitalize the Russian economy but might actively damage it.

The Russian government under Vladimir Putin has actively blocked efforts by the U.S. to improve governance in the nation. Putin’s administration ordered the U.S. Agency of International Development (USAID) to shut its operations in Russia in 2012, claiming that the organization was engaging in subversive activities. 

Domestic efforts to combat entrenched corruption likewise face challenges. Enemies of the state are notorious for being sidelined by illness, exile or death. One prominent example of such a suspicious neutralization is the case of Sergei Magnitsky, a Russian tax accountant who died in prison in 2009 following his investigation into potential tax fraud. This prompted the U.S. Congress to pass sanctions in 2012 targeting Russian officials believed to have been involved in human rights violations.

Despite the risks, Russians continue to fight for their futures and for better infrastructure. Alexei Navalny, head of the Anti-Corruption Foundation and a frequent inmate of Russian jails who attracts thousands to his rallies, has announced his intentions to run against Putin in the 2018 presidential elections.

– Joel Dishman

Photo: Flickr

Holodomor Genocide

In 1933, Ukraine experienced a manmade famine orchestrated by Joseph Stalin’s Soviet regime. As a result of the Holodomor Genocide somewhere around 10 million Ukrainians perished. Whether the Holodomor (translated from Ukrainian as “extermination by famine”) was a genocide, as Ukrainian history insists, or a byproduct of the ongoing Soviet famine, as some contemporaries still suggest, the stories of the millions that died should be remembered to ensure that such a widespread tragedy does not happen again.

 

10 Facts about the Holodomor Genocide:

 

  1. The Soviet Union: Ukraine became a republic of the Soviet Union in 1922 and their agriculture became a major part of the Soviet economy. As Stalin took power he capitalized on Ukraine’s agricultural prosperity and created collective farms to spread grain and other products throughout the member nations. From 1932 to 1933, Stalin increased the quotas required by Ukrainian farmers and severely punished those who resisted.
  2. The Resistance: Many Ukrainians resisted Stalin’s rule over their farms. As a result of their resistance, these Ukrainians came to be considered enemies of the state and were shipped away to remote areas such as Siberia. Many died in transit or else starved to death due to the harsh conditions.
  3. The Policies: The mass expulsions of Ukrainian farmers meant that Stalin had access to all of their resources. For those that remained Stalin increased their quotas to impossible standards. Food and livestock were confiscated, and those caught stealing from the farms in which they worked were arrested. The heart of the famine saw the deaths of 25,000 people every day due to malnutrition and starvation.
  4. The Eyewitness Accounts: The lens through which the world sees famine is often abstract. For victims of the Holodomor, the experience is far more personal. According to surviving eyewitness accounts, Ukrainians survived on anything they could find. From the blossoms of acacia trees to the rotting flesh of cats and dogs, they tried to survive by any means possible. Despite the decreasing number of dogs and abounding malnutrition, denial of the Holodomor Genocide was, and, is still today abundant.
  5. Refusal of Assistance: The international community was by no means ignorant to the famine in Ukraine, however, Stalin refused assistance. The Soviet Union did not acknowledge the widespread problem and suppressed censuses that would help prove the genocide. Visitors to the Soviet Union were likewise confined to Moscow and denied entry to Ukraine.
  6. The Actual Number of Dead is Unknown: While the consensus is that the number of Holodomor victims is around ten million, there are a number of factors that skew the true number. Stalin’s suppression of the Ukrainian census and the large number of people exiled abroad distort the calculations. Denials of the famine both by the Soviet Union and Western publications further alter the number.
  7. Denial of the Famine: The Soviet Union was steadfast in their denial of the Ukrainian famine. Throughout the Holodomor, the USSR released propaganda material under-emphasizing the situation in Ukraine. Soviet official Maxim Litvinov went so far as to say, “there is no famine… You must take a longer view. The present hunger is temporary. In writing books, you must have a longer view. It would be difficult to describe hunger.” This view was by no means eradicated by the passage of time; since 1932 Russia has continued to deny its role in the Holodomor Genocide.
  8. Walter Duranty: Denial of the Holodomor was not isolated to Soviet propaganda. Walter Duranty, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist for The New York Times, wrote articles that conformed to Stalin’s agenda. This included suppression of the famine in Ukraine, writing that “conditions are bad, but there is no famine.” Duranty’s misleading writing and the denial of the famine by the Soviet Union combined to mask the full extent of the Holodomor. The New York Times has since publicly acknowledged Duranty’s failures and called for his Pulitzer Prize to be canceled.
  9. Recognizing Genocide: In 2016, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko officially called for the Holodomor to be acknowledged as a genocide orchestrated by the Soviet Union, which, for decades, Soviet rule prevented Ukraine from doing. Now, memorials stand all over the world that honor the victims and officially acknowledge the Holodomor.
  10. Russia Still Denies Genocide: Despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, Russia has maintained its innocence. Discussion regarding the famine was banned and falsification of evidence took place and Russia, to this day, continues to deny their role in the genocide. Russian officials regard evidence of the genocide as “falsifications of history,” and claim that the famine was due to a natural disaster that affected the entirety of the Soviet Union.

The denial by the Soviet Union of their role in the genocide has prevented a nation from healing. While the U.S. and other Western nations believed accounts that lessened the famine or ignored Stalin’s complicity, they have taken steps to remedy their failure. Russia must do the same to ensure that nothing like the Holodomor Genocide happens again.

Eric Paulsen
Photo: Google


After Ukraine’s 2014 revolution and reorganization of its government, several of the southeastern regions of Ukraine took up arms against the new government. These regions of primarily Russian-speaking Ukrainians, collectively termed the “Donbass,” feel that the new government of Ukraine does not represent the people, and so they have attempted to set up their own, separate government. Here are 10 facts about the War in Donbass, to help raise awareness around the current conflict:

  1. The war in Donbass has claimed about 10,000 lives since it began in 2014, between the forces of the new government and the pro-Russia separatists in Donbass.
  2. Though the Russian government continues to deny claims that it began the war in the Donbass, Russia has been providing supplies and arms to the separatists for years. Considering Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea, Ukrainians fear that they are next on Russia’s list.
  3. Roughly 100,000 professional soldiers and volunteer combatants are scattered around the “gray zone” that exists between the opposing sides’ territories.
  4. The U.N. High Commissioner of Refugees reports that over 1.6 million Ukrainians have been displaced by the fighting, most of them moving away from the fighting towards Kiev. Russia reports that as many as twice that number have similarly fled the fighting eastwards into Russia.
  5. A peace deal, known as Minsk II, was agreed upon and signed by both sides in Minsk, Belarus in 2015, but the implementation of said deal has been a disaster. Neither Russia nor the new Ukrainian government wants to admit responsibility for the conflict, so the process of peace has stalemated.
  6. During the 2016 U.S. Presidential election, many Ukrainians had hope that the new president would be tough on Russia’s involvement in Ukraine and would provide aid for the people in the war zones. The election of President Trump – and his seemingly pro-Russia leaning – has led to much discouragement and disappointment that the aid they counted on is not forthcoming.
  7. Experts have come to believe that the conflict – which has never been an official war between Ukraine and Russia – will only end if Russia concedes a defeat in the Donbass – an outcome many consider highly unlikely – or if Russia ramps up into a full-scale invasion of the Ukraine.
  8. To that end, Russia has been quietly moving to improve its military infrastructure by creating new divisions that can be rapidly expanded should it mobilize its forces, as well as deploying existing forces along the Ukrainian border.
  9. In mid-September, Russian president Vladimir Putin stated that he was open to allowing U.N. peacekeepers into the separatist areas of east Ukraine, though the Ukrainian government insists that Russian forces not be among said peacekeepers.
  10. The U.S. envoy to Ukraine, Kurt Volker, said in late September that the U.S. is against working with Russia to bring in the U.N. peacekeeping forces, as it would only further destabilize the country. Volker also stated that he believes Russia and the separatists are finally willing to come to the table with a resolution to the conflict.

The war in the Donbass is a highly complex and constantly evolving situation, and these 10 facts only serve to summarize some of the more recent developments and how they affect the overarching conflict.

Erik Halberg

Photo: Flickr

Deforestation and PovertyDeforestation and poverty have had a close relationship to one another for a very long time. Individuals around the world have used wood either as a fuel for fire, shelter or weapons for hundreds of thousands of years. Nowadays, communities around the world that are not prosperous enough to survive begin to rely on selling wood and clearing forests in order to survive.

Much of the deforestation today is illegal. However, there are still communities that continue to subsist on illegally-felled wood. In fact, a World Bank report estimated that “illegal loggers cut down an area of forest the size of a football field every two seconds.” This cannot continue. Forests are vital to sustaining the worldwide ecosystem.

Currently, the top three countries involved in deforestation are Russia (mostly in the east), Brazil and the United States of America, which still has plenty of woodland. The U.S. is prosperous enough that it can afford to put resources into sustainable practices, such as replanting trees and improving enforcement of the law.

However, most other countries cannot afford these things. Most of the illegal logging comes from Russia, Brazil and China, attributing to 16.9 percent, 16.0 percent and 12.3 percent of all illegal logging worldwide, respectively.

It is unknown, though, whether the communities which do the illegal felling are in fact severely poor. Because people who are committing this crime do not want to expose themselves, there are few to no statistics on the exact portion of deforestation that is due to poverty. All three countries have relatively low GDP per capita’s though (between $8,000-$9,000 U.S. Dollars) as well as high GINI indices of above 41, which suggest that many of the communities in those countries survive on deforestation, are very poor.

However, we must be careful to not generalize this for all illegal deforestation. In fact, according to Forests News, big corporations are responsible for fueling this industry, as they can gain profits from agricultural land. Putting pressure on these businesses, such as McDonalds or Asia Pulp & Paper (APP), will likely lessen the effect of deforestation. However, it won’t help the poor become more prosperous, and it will likely make them even poorer.

Thus, what can be done against deforestation and poverty and poverty diminished by deforestation, for the sake of the environment, for the sake of the lives at risk and environmentalism?

Deforestation is vital for farmers who want to expand their farms to create more food for the world’s hungry. Unfortunately, solutions to the problem require worldwide participation against unsustainable practices and, of course, general poverty.

Even if we as a humankind were, in theory, to halt deforestation completely, it would mean that millions of people would potentially go hungry and disrupt the world economy. Therefore, the solutions must be carefully implemented over time.

Brazil has a great record of reducing poverty in previous years, reducing poverty from 24.7 percent in 2001 to 7.4 percent in 2014, according to the World Bank. It has also decreased deforestation from 21,000 square kilometers annually to only 8,000 square kilometers. What has the country done to battle deforestation and poverty?

For deforestation, it has invested more money into protecting the forest: 10 percent of the Amazon is now a protected area. For poverty, it created a slew of social programs, such the updating infrastructure, paid school attendance across the country and, most importantly, created “first global center for poverty reduction” called “Mundo Sem Pobreza.” Together, the two programs have worked in tandem to make the country the next big leader in fighting poverty and deforestation.

If Russia and China can learn from Brazil and focus on these issues in their respective nations, humanity will make great strides in battling both world poverty and climate change.

Michal Burgunder

Photo: Flickr

Common Diseases in Russia
Despite its position as both the largest country in the world in terms of landmass and a superpower within the global community both economically and militarily, since the 1991 demise of the Soviet Union, and even prior to that, drastic increases of common diseases in Russia have continued to occur. The causes for this are numerous and diverse, and the types of diseases being identified are often extremely contagious.

Common Diseases
There is no disputing that Russia, comparatively, is a very sick country, and the most common diseases in Russia are generally speaking, either preventable or curable. According to data from a 2014 World Health Organization report, the number of deaths in Russia caused by illnesses exceeded that of the U.S. by 54 percent.

Though coronary heart disease, strokes and HIV/AIDS claimed the most Russian lives in 2014, other common diseases in Russia include lung cancer, lung disease, liver disease, colon and rectum cancers, stomach cancer, pneumonia and different forms of influenza.

The country is also not estranged to seeing infectious diseases. As of 2017, some of the infectious diseases most affecting Russian citizens include typhoid fever, yellow fever, dengue fever, malaria, Rift Valley Fever as well as both hepatitis A and hepatitis E.

Causes and Analysis
Though the country has a socialized health care system that provides medical care to the majority of the population free of cost, it is highly underfunded, which has led to what is considered low-quality medical care by many developed nations and western societies. When attempting to understand the reasons behind the increase of common diseases in Russia, it is important to understand how changes in Russian politics slowly created a public health crisis. These changes took place before the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union and only became increasingly worse following this event.

In the first four years following the fall of the Soviet Union, infant and maternal mortality rates increased substantially, life expectancy and fertility rates notably decreased and contagious diseases became widespread. According to a 1996 report published by the National Library of Congress, common diseases in Russia can be described as the result of the combination of environmental destruction through means including water and air pollution that were caused by the contamination of water and food products, specifically by mishaps involving nuclear development and improperly disposing radioactive material.

Among other things, the population is overcrowded, particularly in urban areas, which often produces substandard living conditions. There is generally widespread malnutrition due to an extremely disproportionate distribution of wealth in the Russian economy and high rates of alcoholism and tobacco usage. To make matters worse, there is a considerable lack of access to modern medical equipment and resources.

Long-Term Impacts
Although its effects may not be visible to the global community yet, public health in Russia is arguably one of the biggest threats to the country’s  future survival as a population. The threat is creating a concern among many that, if the current trajectory is maintained, there will inevitably be noticeable population decreases, as such decreases have already begun.

Between 1993 and 2015, the Russian population saw a decrease from 149 million to 144 million; unfortunately considering the current health crisis, experts have estimated that, if trends continue, the population could be as low as 107 million by 2050.

Hunter McFerrin

Photo: Flickr

Ukraine Poverty RateIn recent years, Ukraine has been a focal point in the news for its contentious relationship with Russia. The Ukraine poverty rate has seen spikes, especially since the breakup of the Soviet Union.

According to an article from the World Bank, in 2016, Ukraine’s economy grew by approximately 2.3 percent. This growth was viewed as minimal, especially in comparison to the past two years where Ukraine collectively saw a 16 percent increase. However, areas including fixed investment and agriculture harvest exhibited strong growth.

Satu Kahkonen, country director for Belarus, Moldova and Ukraine at the World Bank stated in the article that economic recovery for Ukraine is feasible.

“The economy is recovering modestly, but accelerating reforms can help to boost growth in the medium term, address macroeconomic vulnerabilities, and improve the wellbeing of the population,” Kahkonen said in the article. “Reforming the pension system, land markets and health care are now critical given the growing headwinds from the conflict in the east of Ukraine.”

For 2017, officials predict that Ukraine’s economy will experience a mere two percent growth. The World Bank has sought to help this country through investment. They have collectively contributed over $10 billion towards 70 different projects and programs.

In addition, the people of Ukraine have historically faced fairly severe poverty. Between 1992 and 1994, hyperinflation caused approximately 80 percent of Ukrainians to find themselves living in poverty. Additionally, about 25 percent of Ukrainians faced unemployment. The Ukraine poverty rate has only worsened in the years following.

According to the World Bank, the poverty headcount ratio at national poverty (the percentage of the country’s population living below the national poverty line) was approximately 6.4 as of 2015.

The Ukraine poverty rate is projected to improve in the coming years, regardless of recent declines in the country’s economy.

Leah Potter

Photo: Flickr

Russia Poverty Rate
According to The Guardian, the poverty rate in Russia in 2016 was 13.4%, the highest it’s been since 2006. In spite of this, the poverty rate in Russia has decreased significantly since Vladimir Putin took office in 2000.

 

Factors Contributing to the Poverty Rate in Russia

 

One of the largest contributors to Russian poverty is the sanctions put on the country in 2014 by Western countries, as discussed in Radio Free Europe/Radio Library. These sanctions were condemnations for some of Russia’s recent actions, including the annexation of Crimea.

Another factor in the increase in the poverty rate in Russia is the shrinking economy. Much of this deals with the diminished prices of oil, on which the Russian economy heavily depends.

Debt is another contributor to the poverty rate. According to MarketWatch, many of Russia’s 85 regions are in debt due to the local governments relying heavily on commercial loans from Russian banks: “[M]ore than 25 Russian regions had debt-to-revenue ratios of over 85%.”

Local governments also have to pay high taxes to the national government, which many struggle to do. Several of the regions have even defaulted on national loans, causing both frustration and government instability on both sides.

These factors coincide with the rising cost of Russian goods and the decrease of Russian wages. Because of this, Russians are less inclined or able to spend much money, which is reflected by the 5.9% decrease in retail.

Regardless, by the first quarter of 2017, Russia has decreased its poverty rate by nearly 7%. According to Tatiana Golikova, chief of Russia’s Audit Chamber, “[There are] 1.4 million people less [living in poverty] than in the first quarter of last year.”

Moreover, according to MarketWatch, Russia is expected to end its regression in 2017. Reasons for this include a stricter budget and more realistic market expectations.

Cortney Rowe

 

Photo: Flickr


Georgia is a nation well-known for its conflict with Russia over provinces South Ossetia and Abkhazia in 2008. Georgia is a former member of the Soviet Union, and South Ossetia and Abkhazia declared independence from Georgia shortly after it left the Soviet Union. However, neither Abkhazia nor South Ossetia is fully recognized as independent from Georgia internationally. Their declarations of independence resulted in conflict with Georgia.

Nine Facts About Refugees in Georgia

1. As of mid-2015, there were more than 250,000 “refugees and other persons of concern to UNHCR” in Georgia. This includes refugees, people in refugee-like situations (who have not been formally recognized as refugees), internally displaced persons, asylum seekers and other stateless persons.

3. The 2008 conflict created 150,000 Georgian asylum seekers. Fewer than 1,000 Georgian asylum seekers had been accepted each year globally since the early 2000s.

4. More than 1,400 refugees from other countries were accepted into Georgia in 2015. The majority of them were from Iraq and Syria.

5. Since Russia’s second invasion of Chechnya in 1999, about 12,000 Chechnya refugees came to Georgia. Russia has made claims that Georgia hid Chechnya rebels, but Georgia has deemed those claims as false.

6. The International Criminal Court started investigating the war crimes of South Ossetia, Russia and Georgia in and around South Ossetia in order to bring justice to over 6,000 victims. Still, it is doubtful the victims will receive reparations.

7. There are almost 300,000 internally displaced persons in Georgia due to the conflicts with Abkhazia and South Ossetia over the last 20 years. Five percent of the population is internally displaced.

8. During Georgia’s conflict with Abkhazia in 1992-1993, both sides terrorized civilians based on which group they were from and this led to many displaced persons.

9. The EU voted in February to allow Georgians to travel visa-free into the EU for up to 90 days. The EU was concerned this could cause an upsurge in Georgian migrants overstaying illegally, therefore it reserved the right to reinstate visa requirements if needed.

These are just nine facts about refugees in Georgia. Refugees in Georgia are affected by the conflict in South Ossetia, Abkhazia and Russia.

Jennifer Taggart

Photo: Flickr

Refugees in Russia
The number of refugees in Russia has skyrocketed in the past few years. Multiple migrant crises have affected the Russian Federation, leading to domestic tensions. Where has this influx of refugees come from, and what is life like for refugees in Russia? Ahead are seven facts about refugees in Russia.

    1. In 2013, Russia received 3,458 refugees. The next year there were 235,750. In 2015, the refugee population in Russia was greater than 300,000.
    2. In 2011, the Syrian civil war saw refugees escaping to nearby countries such as Lebanon and Turkey, and by 2013, total Syrian refugees numbered more than two million. The Federal Migration Service of Russia recorded 7,096 Syrian citizens in Russia in 2016. Russia has granted refugee status to just two Syrians.
    3. There are a few charity-run schools for refugee children in Russia. Still, many parents fear sending their children to school, worrying that it raises the risk of being questioned by the authorities. Syrians who have lived in Russia for years and become citizens say that officials are inhospitable, according to VOA News.
    4. In 2015, Russia accepted more than 380,000 Ukrainians seeking asylum. Many Ukrainian refugees are officially registered, and receive financial assistance and amenities from the government.
    5. Based on a poll of Russian citizens in 2014, about one-quarter of the country believes the government does too much for refugees. This number almost doubled in the regions near the Ukrainian border, which received the most refugees and aid.
    6. Many Meskhetian Turks, followers of Islam originating from Georgia or Uzbekistan, have lived in Russia for the required residency period but are still denied citizenship.
    7. Following strengthened ties between Russia and North Korea, Russia agreed to repatriate undocumented North Korean citizens found within its borders. Russian refugee group Civic Assistance says there may be hundreds of undocumented North Koreans living in Siberia and the Far East.

Despite varying policies for refugees in Russia, those seeking asylum have much in common. Many refugees in Russia wish to return home or find a place with better living conditions. Many, however, face hostility from the surrounding community.

Michael Rose

Photo: Flickr

Worst Wars in History
War is a terrible phenomenon and one can uncover multiple layers of evil when evaluating just how bad a war is. One way to compare wars in history is to look at the loss of life during each war. Using that calculation, the worst wars in history become horrifically obvious.

Seven of the Worst Wars in History:

1. The Napoleonic Wars (1803-1815) – Between 3.5 and 6 million people were killed in the wars Napoleon Bonaparte waged in the early 19th century. The Napoleonic Wars were some of the worst wars in history partly because of the widespread use of mass conscription, which was applied at an unprecedented scale during this war.

2. The Russian Civil War (1917-1922) – Some five to nine million people died in the Russian Civil War, which took place in the years that followed the collapse of the Russian Empire and the death of the last Russian Czar.

3. World War I (1914-1918) – An estimated 20 million people were killed in the first World War, then also known as the Great War. Erupting in Europe after the death of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, World War I is one of the worst wars in history partially because it was among the first wars to have been fought using modern warfare tactics. Up until then, no one had ever seen a war of such scale, and the resulting trauma rippled through several generations.

4. An Lushan Rebellion (755-763 AD) – The An Lushan Rebellion happened in the Chinese Tang Dynasty when a Tang general established a rival dynasty in the North. Despite some disagreements about the reliability of the census system during the time, experts estimate between 13 and 36 million casualties.

5. Qing Dynasty Conquest of the Ming (1618-1683) – The Qing Dynasty is known for being the last of the old Chinese dynasties before the beginning of the Republic, but an estimated 25 million people died in the Conquest of the Ming before the Qing Dynasty began.

6. Taiping Rebellion (1850) – During the Taiping Rebellion, a convert to Christianity named Hong Xiquan led a rebellion against the Manchu Qing Dynasty, during which anywhere between 20 to 100 million people (mostly civilians) were killed.

7. World War II (1938-1945) – With a death toll between 40 and 85 million, the Second World War was the deadliest and worst war in history. Experts estimate with such a high death toll, about three percent of the world’s population in 1940 died.

While the wars listed above are some of the worst wars in history, one must be careful not to forget that deadly wars are being fought today all around the globe as well. These may be the worst wars in history, but who’s to say that the worst war of all isn’t one being fought right now?

Mary Grace Costa

Photo: Flickr