Sunday, July 15, 2018

Moscow Now ‘Capital of Russia’s Poor,’ New Study Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton,, July 14 – Because Moscow has the largest concentration of Russia’s wealthiest people, most observers aren’t aware of another and even sadder reality: the city has more poor people than any other city in Russia, according to the World Bank; and in fact, has become “the capital of the Russian poor.”

            The World Bank reports that “a large part of Russian poverty is concentrated not in the poorest but in the richest cities of the country, in particular in Moscow and St. Petersburg,” Stanislav Zakharkin reports, undermining the widely accepted view that poverty is concentrated in the provinces (

            “If we speak about absolute figures,” Liliya Ovcharova of the Higher School of Economics says, “if even one percent of Muscovites are poor, then one would be speaking about a hundred thousand people.”  But in fact, the percentage and thus the numbers of poor in the Russian capital are far larger.

            According to Rosstat figures for 2017, 8.9 percent of Muscovites live below the minimum living standards the government has established. That represents 1.1 million people, “more than the population of such millionaire cities as Perm and Krasnoyarsk, the journalist points out.  Another 430,000 poor live in St. Petersburg, close to the population of the Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous District.

            What is worse and what is often forgotten is that living costs in Moscow are much higher than elsewhere and those who are poor live in close proximity to those with enormous wealth, something that makes their situation far harder to bear.  And that has “certain political risks, Ilya Grashchenko of the Center for Regional Politics says.

            “In the provinces, you can feed yourself with a garden,” he says; “but if in Moscow a majority of people lose the means for survival, then they will go into the streets. Moscow always is the tribune for the expression of protest. The Kremlin is there, and people know how to show their dissatisfaction.”

            The Russian government fully understands that risk and will always do more for the poor in Moscow than it will for others similarly situated in the regions.  But that too creates a problem: it makes Moscow a magnet for those who want to improve their lives or even save them, leading to even more poor in the city.

            Political analyst Andrey Kolyadin agrees that Moscow’s poor could become a problem. “The poor population, although paternalistically inclined is not a supporter of the regime. In the case of socio-economic difficulties, it will be the first to support the opponents of the powers that be.”

            That puts it at odds with the middle class which “although it doesn’t depend on the state is interested in stability,” he continues. But Kolyadin says the regime has one advantage here: the poor of Moscow, because they represent a smaller percentage of the city’s population than the poor do elsewhere in Russia, do not feel their numbers as much.

            Consequently, for the moment, they do not represent “a socio-economic threat” there.

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