Staunton, July 23 – Just over half of all Russian citizens (53 percent) say they are unhappy with conditions where they live, but nearly three-quarters of those in the Far Eastern Federal District (73 percent) and two-thirds of those in Siberia (66 percent) feel that way, according to a new poll by the Public Opinion Foundation.
As a result, Sergey Suverov of the BKC Premier Analytic Company says, “in Siberia and especially in the Far East, social tensions are growing since people there more than elsewhere feel the injustice” that the contrast between the natural wealth of their regions and their actual poverty is so great (ng.ru/economics/2019-07-23/1_7630_vostok.html).
Despite Vladimir Putin’s promises two years ago to boost their living conditions, people in these regions have seen no improvement, continue to leave in record numbers, and are likely to become ever more unhappy as this divergence becomes greater, something is forcing Moscow to try to find more money to invest in the population’s needs there lest there be protests.
But what is a matter of concern is that boosting popular satisfaction may not the social stability that Moscow wants. According to the same poll, the region with the most satisfied people is the North Caucasus, the federal district which is universally acknowledged to be the most unstable.
The list of causes of this unhappiness, Mikhail Sergeyev of Nezavisimaya gazeta says in reporting this trend, is anything but short. The leading cause of dissatisfaction is rapidly rising expenses for communal services. That is following by pensions and wages that are too small and too stagnant to keep up.
At the present time, Olga Lebedinskaya of Moscow’s Plekhanov University of Economics says, 40 percent of the six million people of the Far Eastern Federal District are considering leaving and moving to other parts of the Russian Federation where conditions are better.
They currently enjoy higher salaries than do Russians elsewhere, but these incomes fall far short of covering the much higher costs they have to pay for food, housing, transportation and health care, she continues. And they are also angry about the fact that Moscow keeps promising to help them but fails to follow through.
Moscow programs for the Far East have seldom been fully funded after much they are announced with much pomp. Putin’s program for Social-Economic Development of the Far East and Trans-Baikal, for example, has received less than 50 percent of the money promised, and residents know this and are angry about it, Lebedinskaya says.
Officials at the ministry responsible for far eastern development counter that many of the region’s problems reflect its enormous size and severe climatic conditions, and they note that the current difficulties are not something new but have been building up for years. Solving them is going to take time.
Life expectancies are lower, mortality among working age men higher, roads fewer, and transportation infrastructure far less developed. Solving these and other problems while developing the economy is hard because in many cases, 50 percent of the cost of new industry involves developing infrastructure, thus limiting growth.
Moscow is scrambling, promising more money to Far Eastern parents who have one or more children, subsidized health care and mortgages, and other advantages. But few in the region are yet benefitting from these promises, and many there apparently do not expect Moscow to follow through any better in the future than it has in the past.