Saturday, March 27, 2021

Moscow’s Much-Ballyhooed Programs to Save Russian Villages aren’t Working, Audit Chamber Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, March 25 – The Russian government currently has five federal programs intended to save villages from disappearance, but most rural Russians are already too poor to be able to use them and so their villages will continue to disappear, according to a new investigation by the Audit Chamber.

            Unless the government focuses not on construction projects of various kinds and instead directly addresses rural poverty, the Russian government’s own assessment center concludes, there is little hope for this segment of society and thus for the country as a whole (

            At present, rural residents constitute 25 percent of the population of the Russian Federation, some 37 million people; but they make up half of all the poor in the country. Despite that, the Audit Chamber and its experts found, “not a single government program concerning rural areas sets as a special goal the reduction of rural poverty.”

            Not only do Russians living in rural areas have lower incomes, but they lack many of the amenities, including nearby medical care and good roads to get to where it is offered, that urban Russians take for granted. That has pushed down both life expectancy and birth rates in rural areas.

            Housing stock in rural areas is decaying, but government programs to replace it are currently set up so that residents have to wait in line decades – in one place, auditors found that the wait was 28 years -- to get what Moscow has been promoting as a solution for the housing problems of villagers.

             But what is especially unfortunate, the Audit Chamber concludes, is that the existing government programs ignore two trends in Russian life that are likely to become ever more important. On the one hand, many middle-class people in cities want to move to rural areas and work there, something companies are responding to, especially in the pandemic year.

            And on the other – and this may be more serious in terms of the ability of Moscow to help rural residents – the central government still acts as if people live in only one place and hands out benefits on that basis. But ever more often, Russians live one part of the year one place, and another part elsewhere. Those people don’t get promised benefits as a result.

            An immediate challenge, experts say, is to provide villages with high-speed Internet connectivity. That will not only help permanent residents more opportunities but it will make it easier for others to come and go from villages and thus help save what are now increasingly dying relics of the past. 

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