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