Inflammation and stories on russia

Poverty in Russia has been a prevailing issue for years now, but a host of causes has finally brought it to its worst point yet.

According to a recent report by Rosstat, a Russian state statistics service, the amount of people living below the poverty line in Russia hit 22.9 million earlier this year. Russia’s population was roughly 144 million at the end of 2014.

Russia’s poverty crisis has worsened steadily over the past few years due primarily to embargos and resulting inflation. As a result of Russia’s involvement in the Ukraine crisis, many countries embargoed food imports to Moscow. This caused inflation in the country to rise to 16.9%, its highest point in 13 years.

“Unfortunately, predictions are coming true: According to official statistics, the number of poor people has reached 22 million,” Deputy Prime Minister Olga Golodets told a Russian television station.

Additional Western sanctions have caused a steep decline in the price of oil, Russia’s largest export, further damaging the country’s economy and job market. In 2014, the amount of social service agency employees in Russia was cut by 6.5%. Experts are predicting that far more job cuts will follow, affecting 33 different regions of the country over the next few years.

Poverty in Russia is also proving to be immensely damaging to education. According to the Accounts Chamber report, 9,500 towns with populations between 300 and 1,500 had no preschool facilities, and one-third of these towns had no public transportation.

Between this year and 2018, 5.6% of Russia’s preschools are expected to close, as well as 6% of primary and secondary schools, 14.7% of orphanages and 16.1% of vocational schools.

As conditions in Russia continue to worsen, work must continue to be done to improve the quality of life within the country.

Alexander Jones

Sources: World Socialist Web Site, International Business Times, Moscow Times
Photo: Business Insider

poverty in russia
In 2008, there were approximately 18.5 million people in Russia living below the poverty line.

Moreover, since the economic crisis poverty rose by 1.1 percent leaving about 13 percent of the population living below the poverty line. The income inequality gap is currently the most pervasive issue with economic growth not lifting all socioeconomic classes.

President Vladimir Putin has realized that the Russian government is not doing enough to support the impoverished people living in his country. One problem is that social services are not strong enough to support the growing amount of people living in poverty in Russia.

Concurrently, more billionaires live in Moscow than in either New York City or London. The global crisis in 2008 crippled the Russian economy and shrunk it by 9.5 percent.

“The official poverty rate has gone up by precisely six million people. All of the gains in fighting poverty during the period 2000-2008 have been utterly wiped out,” writer Dmitri Butrin said.

There are immense disparities between the rural poor and the urban elites living in Moscow and St. Petersburg. Yet the Kremlin remains politically unaffected by the increase in economic instability due to the tightly controlled Russian media. The problem is mainly in the integrated global economy.

Rising oil prices in 2010 brought reprieved the Russian economy and boosted economic fortitude. However, oil prices fell steadily for several months which is causing the ruble to collapse; the Russian poor are in a much worse position than before.

Russia also has serious budget problems contributing to the economic slump. One-third of the budget is committed to defense and the military industrial complex. Mr. Putin’s commitment to putting up a strong front to the West over the Ukraine is taking priority to the current economic problems facing the poor.

“For Putin the priority is the army, the secret service and the bureaucracy. And also financing pensioners, the main supporters of the regime,” Boris Nemtsov, an opposition leader and former deputy prime minister.

Mr. Putin is not swaying from his plan of investing 20 trillion rubles into rearmament. Former economic advisor, Alexei Kudrin stated “I have the impression that at all levels of power, including the first person (Putin), there isn’t an objective assessment of the challenges before Russia.”

Vladimir Putin is not assessing his priorities with the poor populations of Russia in mind. In this case, geopolitical concerns are taking precidance and this is hurting the people in the lower socioeconomic classes.

– Maxine Gordon

Sources: The Guardian, Yahoo News
Photo: Motor City Times


According to a recent survey from the Moscow-based Financial University, more than half of the Russian population suffers from economic deprivation.

The study was not based on income. Rather, respondents were asked how far their earnings tend to go, on a scale from “just barely enough for food” to “enough for everything, including real estate.” Fifty-four percent of those surveyed said that they could not afford more than basic necessities.

According to the survey, which spanned 35 cities, the poorest respondents were concentrated in the central Volga region. Tolyatti, a city of 720,000 on the Volga River, was identified as the poorest of the 35 cities studied.

Tolyatti, home of Russia’s leading car maker AvtoVAZ, is a particularly interesting case because of its high proportion of ‘critically poor’ young men. The study argues that Tolyatti’s demographics puts the city at high risk for social upheavals, citing the link between unemployment in young men and uprisings in the Arab Spring.

Left reeling from nose-diving oil prices and combined U.S. and EU sanctions, Russia is heading into its biggest economic downturn since 2011, when economic contraction prompted the biggest protests of Putin’s 15-year-rule.

“The question of poverty has a major socio-political significance because of the risk of social unrest if citizens’ living standards decline,” said the report.

It is also important to note that while the survey identified cities in the central Volga region as the poorest of the 35 cities surveyed, Russia’s most impoverished people live predominately in small villages and towns that were not included in the study.

However, economic geographer and Moscow State University Professor Natalia Zubarevich believes that rural-dwelling Russians will be among the most resilient in the face of economic recession.

“People from villages and small towns survive on the land, so they will plant more potatoes and tomatoes,” Zubarevich said. “They will not have to change their way of life [as much].”

Conversely, Zubarevich believes that the rugged individualism of urban life will be conducive to social unrest in Russia’s major metropolises. “As a rule, people there [in big cities] always look individually for an exit strategy from their problems. They don’t tend to find cohesion the way that residents of smaller cities do,” explained Zubarevich.

– Parker Carroll

Sources: The Moscow Times,  Russia and India Report,  Toronto Star

Photo: Flickr

rubleEconomies of the world, listen up: the Russian economy is on the verge of a collapse with the fall of the ruble, which fell to a record low of 80 to the dollar on Tuesday, December 15, 2014. Over a month has gone by, and the Russian government and the Central Bank of Russia are still fighting to stop the free fall of the nation’s economy.

In a conference held on December 15, Russian President Vladimir Putin placed the blame for the ruble’s collapse on Western embargoes. During the three-hour speech on his country’s current economic situation, Putin focused on two primary topics: foreign policy and the economy.

President Putin offered a unique metaphor connecting Russia’s foreign policy and where the country stands on global politics. He said, “Sometimes I wonder, maybe the bear should just sit quietly, munch on berries and honey rather than chasing after piglets … but they will always try to chain [the bear] up.”

With Russia playing the bear in his metaphor, President Putin provided a closer look at his primary goal: to put a fallen Russia back on top. However, since Russia can no longer borrow money from Western banks after the invasion of Ukraine, the Russian government has been forced to dip into other savings, such as foreign aid and reserves.

According to Mr. Putin, Russia “will overcome the current situation. How much time will be needed for that? Under the most unfavorable circumstances I think it will take about two years.” Mr. Putin has high hopes for oil prices to rise and the territories in Ukraine and Siberia to become huge assets to Russia. Mr. Putin also aims to knock out political opposition within Russia and create a resilient, independent economy for Russia.

President Putin’s words during the press conference failed to gain much support in the crumbling market. While it did see a slight increase the day after his speech, the ruble has since continued to weaken against both the dollar and the euro.

The Russian Central Bank reportedly spent more than $80 billion in foreign reserves to slow the ruble’s downfall in December, and this rush to revive the ruble is continuing into 2015. Russian savings could potentially depreciate and push Russia further into an isolated economy. Mr. Putin hopes that the depreciation of the ruble will “make Russia’s economy more independent,” as it is weaned off of Western influence. With Russia being such an influential nation in Northern Asia, its continued isolation could have devastating effects on global poverty.

As Russia further separates itself from the Western economies, the world feels the weight of Russian policies.

– Alaina Grote

Sources: The Economist, The Guardian, Foreign Policy, CBS

Photo: WordPress

The Russian economy is suffering due to sanctions enacted by the United States and the European Union. Inflation has risen dramatically and with the ruble teetering back and forth, the safety of their currency is uncertain.

During the annexation of Crimea and Russian military movement in the Ukraine, the U.S. and E.U. increased trade restrictions on Russia and wealthy businessmen regarded as being close to Vladimir Putin. As the Russian economy shifts focus toward a stronger economic development and trade with the Asian countries, Russia’s reliance on the dollar decreases.

One of the ways in which Russia is attempting to achieve this is by trading in domestic currency rather than relying on the U.S. dollar. Russia’s dependence on Asia in general and China in particular hints at Putin’s larger goal for the Russian economy to be less involved in U.S. and Europe. Among of the most important deals Russia has made is  the Agreement on Cooperation which was signed by Vladimir Putin and Chinese president Xi Jinping. The $25 billion deal will allow Russia and China to trade in domestic currencies rather than the dollar.

Another significant deal is the $400 billion trade deal that will increase oil exports from Russia to China. It includes a proposal for a new pipeline that will send oil directly from Western Siberia to China. Underlying Putin’s unease with the U.S. is the desire to begin limiting U.S. economic hegemony. However, the dollar is so prevalent in the foreign economy it seems unlikely that a dramatic shift will occur in the near future. Russia’s largest market is currently the E.U. and sanctions have reduced the amount Russia is able to export.

Economic sanctions enforced by President Barack Obama seek to undercut Russian oil exports which make up half of Russia’s economic revenue. Putin announced recently at a G-20 Summit that the West needs to lift sanctions. He states, “This is harmful, and of course is doing us some damage, but it’s harmful for them as well because, in essence, it’s undermining the entire system of international economic relations.”

If Russia is less dependent on the U.S. market, sanctions will mean little to Putin and the Russian economy. Eventually there will be little to deter him from further military involvement in the Ukraine or elsewhere. It will be more difficult for the U.S. to influence Putin’s perceived aggression.

Russia is not the only country who wants to decrease dependence on the U.S. market. Other BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) countries are looking to do the same. For the meantime, Russia may be forced to cope with the low price of oil. American economists predict that the prices should level out at about $83 a barrel and stay there for a while to come.

Maxine Gordon

Sources: International Business Times, Reuters, New York Times, The Guardian
Photo: Newsweek

In a groundbreaking decision in the nation’s post-Soviet history, the Ukraine elections resulted in their first majority pro-European parliament. For the greater part of the last 300 years, Ukraine has operated under Russian or Soviet ruling; the results of the election tilt the country’s diplomatic affairs further away from Russia.

Many attribute the dramatic switch to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s elimination of Crimea and Donbas from elections. Those two regions historically have provided a solid pro-Russian vote. However, Crimea remains annexed and Donetsk insurgent controlled, stripping pro-Russian parties of their voting base.

Crimea’s annexation didn’t just remove pro-Russians from the voting process, it changed public opinion of eligible voters, as well. According to a poll by the International Republican Institute, in September 59 percent of Ukrainians favored membership in the EU and only 17 percent in the Customs union of Russia. Just a year ago, those figures were 42 percent and 37 percent, respectively.

Exit polls indicated that many voters cast their ballots out of concern that the current parliament was corrupt and incompetent.

This monumental shift creates an opportune climate for relations with the EU and the U.S., while presenting great challenges for the Ukraine.

According to Daniel Runde of Forbes Magazine, Ukraine will need new trading partners. Twenty-five percent of Ukraine’s energy comes from Russian oil. Russia is now demanding Ukraine pay back its $3.1 billion debts and prepay for future oil supplies. It appears the EU will administer two loans to the tune of $965 million to help cover these costs. This makes clear that Ukraine will need to start exploring alternative sources of energy.

Despite the fact that the country still remains very culturally woven to Russia, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko says he hopes to join the EU within six years. Many Europeans argue a ten-year timeline is more realistic.

Runde argues that more successful ties between western Europe and the Ukraine will require more than political efforts. Culturally mirroring the political shift toward western Europe requires Peace Corps involvement in the Ukraine, more student exchanges between the regions and more western teachers working in the country.

– Gabrielle Sennett

Sources: The Guardian, Forbes, Washington Post, WSJ
Photo: NBC News

worst dictators current
The world’s most repressed countries live in a dictatorship. Citizens suffering under the rule of harsh dictatorships are often stripped of political rights and civil liberties. Those who express views differing from the state suffer consequences of physical and psychological abuse. Though the number of dictatorships has been on a decline, there is still much progress to be made. Listed below are some of the worst current dictators.

Worst Current Dictators

  1.  Kim Jong-un is arguably the most well-known current dictator in the world with the antics of his late father being publicized in world news all too often. As Supreme Leader of Korea, Kim Jong-un runs his government with a totalitarian rule ranging from his pursuit of nuclear weapons to unapologetic and even public execution of his citizens. Hope for more lenient domestic and foreign policies following his father’s death has since changed as Kim Jong-un continues the ruthless administration his father started years prior.
  2. Bashar al-Assad, leader of Syria came to power in 2000 and was seen by many as a potential reformer by domestic and foreign observers alike. There were high hopes that with Assad in power, the drastic changes that Syria needed would come about sooner rather than later. Instead, Assad has tightened his political reigns and enforced harsh consequences for political opponents and potential challengers which heavily contributed to the civil war that broke out in 2011. It is believed that Assad has tens of thousands of political prisoners being held and tortured in prison.
  3. Robert Mugabe, President of Zimbabwe since 1980, came to power following the end of a civil war which ended white minority rule. Mugabe gained much attention from pursuing land reform policies that focused on reclaiming property and land owned by non-black Zimbabweans. Though some deemed his actions as racist to say the least, Mugabe seemed to gain quite a bit of support from those who felt his actions were making amends to the people of Zimbabwe from the previous abuses by European colonists. However, Mugabe and his ZANU-PF party turned the heads of many in 2008 when presidential elections came about versus Morgan Tsvangirai, a pro-democracy supporter. Tsvangirai received much support resulting in Mugabe only receiving 43 percent of the vote in the first round of the election. However, after allegations of fraud, voter intimidation, beatings and rape conducted by Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party, Mugabe swept the election with 90 percent of the vote.
  4. Vladimir Putin of Russia is known most for the staggering amount of control he has over his country through his political actions regularly linked with corruption. After serving two terms from 2000-2008, Putin decided to create a loophole in the constitution by deeming himself Prime Minister when Dmitry Medvedev became the next president of Russia following the end of Putin’s final term. Medvedev consequently made an amendment to the constitution allowing presidents to serve six terms and giving Putin the opportunity to serve as president for a third term. To no one’s surprise, Putin won the presidential election in 2012.

– Janelle Mills

Sources: Forbes, Kizaz, Freedom House
Photo: Toon Pool 

Refugee Convoy Attack in Ukraine - The Borgen Project
More than dozens were found perished in a refugee attack on a civilian convoy running away from constant fighting in eastern Ukraine, with the Ukraine government and pro-Russian separatists both putting the blame on each other, according to news source Al Jazeera.

The attack, being described as a “bloody crime,” by a spokesman, has had several people killed, including some women and children. The number perished is currently being established; however, it is known that the toll could be put in dozens.

“The barrage had taken place last Monday morning between the cities of Khryashchuvate and Novosvitlivka, close to the rebel city of Luhansk,” said a Ukraine military spokesman.

As reported by news source BBC, the Ukrainian military has claimed that many have perished due to the influx of rockets and mortars demolishing vehicles moving the refugees from the Luhansk area of eastern Ukraine.

Another military spokesman proclaimed that several people had been burned alive inside the vehicles; however, a spokesman for the rebels who are named “Donetsk People’s Republic, “refused the idea that rebel forces had deliberated the attack on the convoy.

According to Reuters, the convoy was involved with ferocious fighting mainly between government forces and the separatists when the fire erupted from rebel Grad and mortar launchers, many spokesmen stated.

According to news source BBC News, it is known that more than 2,000 civilians and fighters have perished since the middle of April, a time in which Ukraine’s government had sent troops to overthrow the rebel uprising in the east.

The separatist rebels have been conspicuously sighted as ambushing a row of cars holding refugees attempting to escape the war in eastern Ukraine. This allegation can be confirmed according to news source New York Times. Ukrainian military officials have accused the separatists vehemently throughout, but the separatists, however, have denied that there has been no attack at all and they are not to be held responsible for the incident.

Luhansk, a city of 250,000 people, is a region where currently civilians are suffering heavy amount of shortages of water, food and electricity.

At the moment, Ukrainian forces are edging into the outskirts of Luhansk, where supplies such as food and water are running out for them.

During a briefing in Kiev, Colonel Andriy Lysenko, a spokesman for the Ukrainian military, has stated that “terrorists” had ambushed the refugee convoy with Grad rocket systems and several other large weapons for combat supplied by Russia.

This could be considered a deadly episode for civilians, as according to the New York Times, separatists have begun to take control of cities and towns in this region approximately more than four months ago.

With over 2,000 people perished and more than 5,000 wounded in Ukraine, a representative for the United Nations human rights office claimed last week, with approximately more than half of the deaths currently happening in just these last two weeks.

The news of civilian deaths has been a grave situation as efforts for diplomacy to find a solution to the Ukraine crisis have been unsuccessful since last Monday; during conversations in Berlin among the foreign ministers of Germany, France, Ukraine and Russia.

Recently, the United States State Department has condemned the attack; however, it stated that it could not confirm who was responsible.

According to news source Reuters, State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said, “We strongly condemn the shelling and rocketing of a convoy that was bearing internally displaced persons in Luhansk … Sadly, they were trying to get away from the fighting and instead became victims of it.”

The week of August 25, a solution was implemented for the first time in several months. This solution is meant to attempt to end the confrontation between Russian president Vladimir Putin and his Ukrainian counterpart. While both their meetings will hold several issues regarding the Ukraine Convoy Attack, their final solution is intended to mend the situation regarding the separatist rebellion in eastern Ukraine.

— Noor Siddiqui

Sources: Reuters, Reuters 2, CNN, Al Jazeera, BBC, New York Times Click On Detroit
Photo: Bloomberg

aid envoy
Hundreds of trucks covered in white tarpaulin began rolling towards the Ukraine-Russia border recently, delivering aid from Russia to rebel-held portions of Eastern Ukraine. Ukrainian officials believe that the aid convoy is simply a “trojan horse,” designed to give rebels necessary arms and supplies to continue their fight against the Ukrainian army. Some reports have indicated that the convoy would stop at the border, and that the aid supplies would be unloaded and distributed to areas of need by the Red Cross.

According to the Russian foreign ministry, the aid delivery consists of 262 to 287 trucks and contains over 1,800 tons of “humanitarian supplies.” They specifically mentioned sleeping bags, medical equipment, electric generators and baby food. However, many in the west have been skeptical about the content and goals of the aid delivery.

The aid mission has caused many to fear an escalation in the already drawn out conflict. Western powers have repeatedly called the aid envoy a farce designed for Russian officials to sneak troops and/or weapons to the rebels, who have been losing ground to the Ukrainian military. Russia has denied these allegations, and has released statements declaring accusations by the West “absurd.” An official statement from Moscow said, “They continue to voice the absurd claim that the humanitarian convoy to help the civilian population of southeast Ukraine could be used as a pretext for Russian ‘military intervention.'”

The legitimacy of the aid envoy hinges on the Red Cross. Russian officials have claimed that the Red Cross has been coordinating with them on this mission, and that no military personnel or weapons are included. While the Red Cross has been working to help increase the amount of humanitarian aid being delivered into the region, they have denied involvement with this specific mission and have told news agencies that they have not been able to investigate the aid delivery.

Andre Loersch, the Red Cross spokesman in Kiev, told the media that “discussions are still ongoing” between them and Russia. He elaborated by saying, “The ICRC needs more details of what is in the convoy. The convoy is on the road and the ICRC has not had the opportunity to check what is inside.”

As of now, the aid convey still remains in limbo, with the full scope of its contents left unknown until the Red Cross investigates.

– Andre Gobbo

Sources: Al Jazeera, NY Times, ITV
Photo: Presstv

Researchers on Flight MH17
Dozens of delegates, scientists and researchers on Flight MH17, en-route to an AIDS conference, were among the 298 victims of the crash in Ukraine after it was shot out of the sky over the war-torn area on July 17.

The five day AIDs conference in Melbourne, Australia was almost cancelled as it became evident that many of the dead passengers from flight MH17 were researchers and delegates heading to the conference, convened by the International AIDs Society. A silent, candle-lit vigil has been held at the conference to honor the victims.

Although not all the passengers have been named, it is believed that some of the world’s leading HIV/Aids researchers are among the victims of the doomed flight from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur.

Dutch-born former president of the International AIDS Society Joep Lange and his partner Jacqueline van Tongere have been confirmed as among the dead. Lange was a prominent HIV researcher and a professor at the University of Amsterdam due to speak at the conference. He was also a key researcher behind projects aimed at preventing mother-to-child AIDs transmission and an early advocate of bringing HIV medicines to the developing world.

Referring to her friend Joep Lange, U.S. public health doctor and journalist Dr. Seema Yasmin tweeted from the AIDs conference in Melbourne: “How do we measure how much a person has done for humanity? People like Joep change the course of epidemics.”

One of the nine passengers from the UK was Glenn Thomas. Thomas was a former BBC journalist working as the World Health Organization’s Media Relations Coordinator and was heading to Kuala Lumpur for his connection to Melbourne.

The current death toll stands at 298, which includes 189 Dutch nationals, 44 Malaysians, 27 Australians, 12 Indonesians, nine passengers from the UK, four Germans, four Belgian passengers, three passengers from the Philippines, one Canadian and one passenger from New Zealand. The nationalities of the remaining four passengers are unknown at press time.

Executive director of UNAids, Michel Sidibe has tweeted: “My thoughts & prayers to families of those tragically lost on flight #MH17. Many passengers were en-route to #AIDS2014 here in #Melbourne.”

Flight MH17 was shot down on July 17  in Eastern Ukraine with anti-aircraft weaponry. Ukraine has been in turmoil since November 2013 when the former President Yanukovych abandoned an agreement on closer ties with the E.U. He was overthrown in February after months of violent protest in the capital, Kiev. Russia then moved to annex the Crimean Peninsula. Other areas in the south east of Ukraine are violently fighting to be independent of Ukraine; the rebels are believed to be supplied and financed by Russia.

International Reaction:

The U.S. has criticized Russia for arming separatist rebels in Ukraine who are widely held responsible for perpetrating the attack. President Obama, Joe Biden and John Kerry have, however, stopped short of directly blaming Russia.

Hillary Clinton has made the strongest criticism of Russia, saying that action was needed to “put [Vladimir] Putin on notice that he has gone too far and we are not going to stand idly by.”

Clinton spoke to Charlie Rose on the PBS network, saying, “The questions I’d be asking is, number one, who could have shot it down? Who had the equipment? It’s obviously an anti-aircraft missile. Who could have had the expertise to do that? Because commercial airlines are big targets, but by the time they got over that part of Ukraine they should have been high, so it takes some planning [to target such a plane].”

Russian President Vladimir Putin has denied Russian involvement in the crash and has said that Ukraine bears the responsibility of the crash. He has since called for opposing sides to lay down their arms and enter talks.

U.K. Prime Minster David Cameron has said it is too early to know who is responsible for the tragedy.

– Charles Bell

Sources: The Guardian 1, Vox, The Guardian 2, The Guardian 3
Photo: Global Research