Russia on the Ground – April 2019

St. Petersburg, Russia. Picture by SRAS graduate Alexis Mrachek

This resource serves to track domestic news inside Russia – focusing primarily on demographics, public opinion, economy, and major domestic political events inside Russia.

It is intended to give students who are otherwise following major issues and events within Russia greater context from which to view those issues and events. This resource lists useful but often under-reported information that can help build a pragmatic and objective view of Russia’s domestic situation.



Putin’s popularity remains flat at 64% but propensity to protest falls mildly
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s popularity has remained flat since the start of the year at 64% approving him and 34% disapproving, according to independent pollster the Levada Center – the same level it has been at since last summer when his approval rating fell from the 80s where it was in the first half of 2018.

Share of Russians Predicting Better Ties With the West Hits 5-Year High
The number of Russians forecasting improved relations between their country and the West has reached a five-year high, the independent Levada Center pollster said Monday.

Record 20% of Russians Say They Would Like to Leave Russia
Adding to the bad news last month that Russia is dangerously close to a full-blown demographic crisis, with its population declining for the first time in a decade in 2018, a new high of one in five Russians (20%) now say that they would like to leave Russia if they could.

Stalin’s Approval Rating Among Russians Hits Record High
A record 70 percent of Russians approve of Soviet leader Josef Stalin’s role in Russian history, according to a poll published by the independent Levada Center pollster on Tuesday.

With all due respect: Stalin-approving Russians don’t want to live in his time
Although a majority of Russians say they approve of Soviet leader Joseph Stalin’s role in history, according to recent polls, just a tiny portion of them would have liked to have lived under his rule, a new survey reveals.



Raising Living Standards: Record Number of Civic Projects Now Underway in 100 Russian Cities
Recycling, clean water, and modern public transportation. These are the projects the state development corporation VEB.RF is launching in 100 Russian cities.

Indoor Plumbing Still a Pipe Dream for 20% of Russian Households, Reports Say
More than one-fifth of Russian households do not have access to indoor plumbing, according to official statistics obtained by the RBC news website on Tuesday.



Russia removed 80,000 tonnes of trash from its Arctic zone since 2012
Since 2012, at least 20 cleanup operations have been completed in the region.

Russia will ratify Paris Agreement after thorough analysis, says Putin
The Russian leader stressed that, unlike Washington, Moscow signed and implemented the Kyoto Protocol.



Evaluating Russian Exports Under Sanctions and Stagnation
The use of sanctions to push Russia to change its foreign policy behavior has come under heated debate.

Russia’s strong $32bn 1Q19 current account surplus is actually a sign of economic weakness
In 1Q19, Russia’s current account surplus totalled $32.8bn, up from $30bn seen in 1Q18, according to the preliminary estimate of the balance of payments published by the CBR on April 9.

Russia cashes in as European oil refiners pay for U.S. sanctions
European refiners are paying the price for U.S. oil sanctions on Venezuela and Iran as they scramble to replace the sour crude Washington has blocked from the global market with increasingly expensive Russian oil, trading sources said and data showed.

By playing Korean peacemaker, Putin seeks to revive Russia’s Far East
Is there now an area in which Russia is not in competition with the U.S.? Our Moscow correspondent offers a look at Vladimir Putin in an unexpected role: mediator.

Russia’s gross international reserves (GIR) reached $490.9bn as of April 19, according to the Central Bank of Russia (CBR), the highest level in since March 2014.
Russia’s gross international reserves (GIR) reached $490.9bn as of April 19, according to the Central Bank of Russia (CBR), the highest level in since March 2014.

– Business

The march of Russia’s medical lab services business
Russia has many flourishing sectors like oil, retail and agriculture, but the expansion of the middle class has given rise to increasingly sophisticated services aimed at the population.

Russian online retailer Wildberries posts 85% growth in revenues in 1Q19
Russian online retailer Wildberries posted 85% year-on-year growth in revenues in the first quarter of 2019 to RUB38.9bn ($603mn), with the number of unique users up by 89%.

Russia’s Yandex could cash in $96mn on Uber shares
Russian internet major Yandex has the right to sell its stake in Uber Technologies that are worth $96mn, Prime reported on April 12 citing documents published by Uber.

Upstart Russian oil firm, with Goldman Sachs backing, bucks industry blues
In the frozen taiga of eastern Siberia, where bears roam in spring after waking from hibernation, an independent Russian oil company is bucking the domestic industry trend by rapidly ramping up its output and expanding operations.

Facebook and Twitter given nine more months to comply with Russian data-localisation law
Facebook and Twitter have been given nine months by Roskomnadzor, the Russian telecom and Internet regulator, to move Russian users’ data onto servers located physically on Russia soil, reports Adrien Henni of East-West Digital News (EWDN).

Russia’s largest grain freight operator RusTransCom postpones IPO
Russian rail operator RusTransCom, specialising on transportation of grain, mineral fertilisers, and timber, has postponed its plans to hold an IPO, the company said in a statement.

Russian retailer O’key reportedly eyed by Yandex.Market online marketplace
Russian struggling mid-cap retailer O’key could be in part acquired by Yandex.Market online marketplace, a joint venture between Russia’s largest bank Sberbank and most valuable digital company Yandex, Kommersant daily reported citing unnamed sources close to the deal.

Russia’s business confidence turns in another -2% result in April
Consumer confidence in Russia remains on the ropes, but business turned in another cautiously optimistic month at -2% for the forth month in a row.

– Banking and Finance

Russia can cover its debt dollar for dollar in cash
Russia’s gross international reserves (GIR), including gold, continue to creep upwards and reached $487.1bn as of March 22 – enough to cover Russia’s external debt dollar for dollar in cash.

Cash Is King (in U.S. Dollars) for Russia’s Millionaires
Three decades after the collapse of communism there are at least 163,176 millionaires in the country, according to Knight Frank LLP. Of their combined assets, 26 percent are in cash, the highest level in the world.

Russian HeadHunter service prepares for IPO
Russia’s leading job searching service HeadHunter prepares for a $250mn IPO in May-June 2019 on NASDAQ, Vedomosti daily reported on April 11 citing unnamed investment bankers and sources close to the shareholders of the company.

Russia’s Ministry of Finance holds another record breaking OFZ treasury auction
Russia’s Ministry of Finance is on a tear as it got another no-limits bond auction for its ruble denominated OFZ treasury bills away, setting a fresh record. In two fixed coupon OFZ auctions, Russian debt managers collected RUB124.6bn ($1.9bn) in total, Raiffeisen Bank (RZB) reports.

Russia’s Stock Market Keeps Breaking Records
The Moscow Stock Exchange continues to break records despite sanctions on its most important companies, including banking giant Sberbank and the world’s largest natural gas exporter, Gazprom.

Bank of Russia guides for first rate cut as soon as 2-3Q
While originally, we cautiously expected a first 25 bp cut to follow in 4Q, now, with a gasoline price freeze secured, a September cut feels more appropriate. A more aggressive trajectory would require a continued rally in financial markets, which is not secured.


Policy and Conflict Post SovietPolitics

Russia to Keep Former Minister Abyzov in Jail on Fraud Charges
A court in Russia on Wednesday ruled that former government minister Mikhail Abyzov, an ally of Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, be held in pre-trial detention for two months ahead of his trial for fraud and organizing a criminal group.

The End of Kremlin’s Dominance in the Regions
Last week’s arrest of former Khabarovsk governor Viktor Ishayev is a sign that the Kremlin is losing influence over the provinces.

Russia’s Ministry of Finance takes “manual control” over the most indebted regions
With the Russian public finances in rude health the government is moving to take tighter control of regional debt, the build-up of which nearly caused a crisis only two years ago.



Russian statistics agency points to population decline
Russia’s population declined by 93,500 to 148.8 mln in 2018, the Federal State Statistics Service (Rosstat) said in a statement on Thursday.

Number of Marriages and Number of Divorces Both Falling in Russia – and Possibly for Same Reasons
The Russian justice ministry reports that the number of marriages and the number of divorces in Russia have fallen sharply in recent years, with experts providing a wide variety of explanations.

Richest 3% Russians Hold 90% of Country’s Financial Assets
The wealthiest 3 percent of Russians owned 89 percent of all financial assets in 2018, according to joint research by the Higher School of Economics and the state-run VEB Bank.

Average life expectancy in Russia hits 72.9 years
The average life expectancy in Russia has hit a new high in 2018, rising 0.2 years to reach 72.9 years, Health Minister Veronika Skvortsova told reporters on Wednesday.

The share of Russians who consider themselves middle class down from 60% to half
The number of Russians that consider themselves to be part of the middle class fell from 60% to half (47%) in 2018, as real incomes stagnate and years of crisis weight on confidence, according to the quarterly “Ivanov Consumer Index” poll conducted by state-owned retail lender Sberbank.


Daily Life / Civil Society

Russian climate gets warmer 2.5 times faster than world average
Russia has been implementing a set of measures to slow down the climate change.

‘Very Important Precedent:’ Russian Court Rules Transgender Woman Was Fired Illegally
In a decision hailed as the first of its kind in Russia, a St. Petersburg court has ruled that a printing house illegally fired a transgender woman who had worked there for years as a man.

Kremlin Scapegoat: Russia’s In-System Opposition Under Attack
In-system politicians and parties that have participated in elections as Kremlin-approved opposition are now discovering that loyalty and playing by the rules no longer protect them from pressure from the authorities.

How ‘public advocates’ are disrupting Russia’s justice system
Since 2001, Russia has operated a system of “public advocates,” allowing individuals without a law degree (often defendants’ friends or relatives) to help defense attorneys build cases, including in felony trials.

About the Author

Gregory Tracey
Greg Tracey is a junior at the University of Nebraska – Lincoln. He is studying economics and international relations, as well as minoring in mathematics and Russian. As a Home and Abroad Scholar, he is focusing on business and economic issues in Russia and surrounding countries. The related scholarship will help fund his participation in SRAS's Russian as a Second Language program at St. Petersburg State University of Economics during the Spring 2019 Semester. In his free time, he enjoys reading and soccer.