Sunday, March 14, 2021

Eighth Year of Russia’s Decline, like Gelendzhik Palace, Something Best Not to Talk About, Shelin Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, March 12 – Soviet citizens were long accustomed to official reports that compared the economic situation in the USSR at any particular point with what it had been in the Russian Empire in 1913, the last pre-war year. Now, Russians increasingly are comparing Russia now with 2013, the last pre-crisis, pre-Crimean, and pre-sanctions one, Sergey Shelin says.

            This second comparison, the Rosbalt commentator says, is something that doesn’t show the Putin regime in a good light; and the response of the Kremlin is to prepare new laws that will impose serious penalties on those who make it, lest their words lead even more people in the country to draw conclusions (

            Russia’s current bout of economic stagnation in fact began in 2008, but from the point of view of ordinary Russians, it was 2013 when “the quality of his life reached a maximum over the course of the entire post-Soviet era.” That year was the last when oil prices increased and incomes rose for most of them.

            “Real disposable incomes in 2020 were 10.6 percent lower than in 2013,” Shelin continues. And despite the regime’s efforts to suggest otherwise, only a third of that decline can be blamed on the impact of the pandemic given that before it hit, all basic sectors of the economy were either stagnating or in decline rather than increasing in size.

            To be sure, some Russians, those on whom the regime relies to keep itself in power, have seen their situation improve over this period, but most have seen their status decline, a divergence that is increasingly difficult to document because the government is increasingly chary about releasing data showing this divergence.

            Moreover, it has lost confidence that its promises will calm the population, the commentator continues, and “therefore it is quieting things with threats,” promising to punish people for spreading rumors about inflation. “A draft law to do so has already been prepared, and no one is surprised.”

            That marks a remarkable shift from Brezhnev’s time. Then, Shelin recalls, “no one was punished of talk about the absence of goods in stores.” Brezhnevites never thought about doing so, but Putinists are ever more prepared to because they clearly see that the decline since 2013 is only going to increase, however much they try to hide it.

            What this means, the commentator concludes, is that at present, “our decline ever more recalls the Gelendzhik Palace which either exists or doesn’t [depending on whom you believe] but something which it isn’t recommended that anyone talk about.” Unfortunately, not talking about a problem is not the same as solving it. 

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