Staunton, August 1 – How people evaluate their changing economic situation depends on comparisons either with their own past or with how other people are doing. In the current economic crisis, most Russians can see that they are doing less well than they were five years ago and significantly less well that the Putin elite.
But residents of Kaliningrad have an additional comparison, one that makes their assessment of the situation far more negative: they compare their status with two neighboring EU countries, Lithuania and Poland, and a third, Germany with which they have historical ties, none of which is under sanction and all of which are doing much better than Russia.
Mikhail Feldman notes that “if there is a permanent crisis in the country, it isn’t surprising that each of its regions experiences not the best times,” an observation that is especially true of Kaliningrad where the standard of living is significantly behind what they can observe in their European neighbors” (region.expert/kenig_crimea/).
The regional commentator traces the overall decline in the amount of exports and the level of production, factors that indirectly affect the population through wages, and then focuses on what he describes as “the negative trends” in consumption patterns involving declines in the amount and quality of foodstuffs.
According to the oblast branch of Rosstat, Kaliningraders were on average each consuming 20 percent fewer kilograms of milk and milk products in 2017 than they were only three years later, a fall off from 280 kg per year to 224, and they were eating less meat, with a decline from 95 kg per year to 88.
But that is only the tip of the iceberg of the problems that Moscow’s counter-sanctions campaign have created. By reducing competition from the West, this policy has led to higher prices for those commodities under counter-sanction and, what is in many case worse, significantly lower quality.
According to Russian consumer production agencies, Feldman says, more than a quarter of all milk products tested in Kaliningrad in 2018 did not meet federal standards. Many contained harmful bacteria and even chemical contaminants that threaten the health and wellbeing of consumers such as the remains of medicines.
These agencies also found that in 28 percent of all their tests, Russian manufacturers now misstate the contents of what they are selling, advertising goods as containing one kind of meat but containing another, to give but one example of the falsifications that have become easier for Russian producers over the last five years.
Clearly, Feldman says, Kaliningraders are worse off than they were and know it; and he points to one indication of this that Moscow may be pleased about. Because conditions in the oblast are much less good than they were, the Russian military is having far less difficulty meeting its draft quota there than it did.
In 2014, he reports, there were 160 cases of draft avoidance reported. Last year, there were only eight.