Russia on the Ground – March 2019

Russia's new Power of Siberia Pipeline, which will transport natural gas to China, is now complete.

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.

 

Polls

Almost 9 out of 10 Russians approve of Crimea’s inclusion in Russia
Almost three quarters of Russia’s citizens (73%) believe that Crimea is developing more successfully now that it is a part of Russia, according to a poll conducted by the Russian Public Opinion Research Center (VCIOM) obtained by Interfax.

More than half of Russians support gender equality, poll says
The poll shows that in Russian society there isn’t a unified position on whether gender equality is possible in various spheres of life.

94% of Russians Are Concerned About the Environment
Most Russians are concerned about environmental pollution, according to a recent survey conducted by Moscow’s Higher School of Economics (HSE).

 

Infrastructure

Gazprom announces the near completion of “Power of Siberia”-gas pipeline
The Russian company Gazprom has announced that the construction of its gas pipeline to China has been completed by 99%.

Climate Change Will Hit Russia Hard, Scientists Warn
As temperatures rise at an alarming rate, experts urge efforts to deal with floods, heatwaves, and wildfires.

3S Gondola Being Planned to Connect Moscow Metro
At a recent economic forum in St. Petersburg, Russia, the deputy mayor of Moscow announced that the government is in the midst of planning an urban gondola 15km northwest of the city center.

Putin Turns Swathes of Russia Into Flyover Country
The government’s infrastructure and development plans put some areas on the fast track and leave others in the dust.

Will Russia’s infrastructure spending cause a boom?
The Kremlin is launching into a six-year long RUB27 trillion ($400bn) spending bonanza that is intended to transform the economy.

To make Russia great again, Putin is building roads and bridges
There seems little doubt that the vast infrastructure renewal program championed by Vladimir Putin is beginning to spread far beyond tourist showplaces like Moscow and St. Petersburg.

Putin flies into Crimea for annexation party, launches power stations
President Vladimir Putin flew into Crimea on Monday to celebrate the fifth anniversary of Russia’s annexation of the region from Ukraine and led cheering crowds in repeated chants of “Russia” after inaugurating two new power stations.

Gazprom’s Power of Siberia gas pipeline to China is finished
Russia’s state-owned gas giant Gazprom will start filling the Power of Siberia (Sila Sibiri) natural gas pipeline that connects Russia to China from September 1, Gazprom Transgaz Tomsk said in its corporate magazine on March 14, as cited by Prime.

€143 billion investments needed on Northern Sea Route
Shipping on the Russian Arctic route could amount to 77 million tons by year 2024 if the right projects are implemented, a new government report says.

Can Urban Renewal Plug Russia’s Brain Drain?
City planners have transformed town squares, main thoroughfares and river embankments.

 

Economy

Russia’s goods trade surplus up 20% in 2018 to $212bn
Russian customs reports that in 2018 the country’s goods trade surplus climbed to $212bn, or roughly 12% of GDP. Russia is now running a triple surplus again for the first time in years: trade, current account and federal budget.

Russia’s consumer confidence plunges as business confidence improves
Russian President Vladimir Putin is right to be concerned about rising discontent amongst ordinary Russians. The economy is growing again and both banks and the leading corporates have returned to profit but that is not trickling down as a “feel good” factor to street level.

“Agro-superpower” Russia will harvest 118mn tonnes of grain in 2019, minister says
Russia will harvest no less than 118mn tonnes of grain in 2019, including 75–78mn tonnes of wheat, Agriculture Minister Dmitry Patrushev told the PRIME news outlet on March 14.

Putin Kicks Off Massive New Gas Field in Russia’s Arctic
President Vladimir Putin has kicked off the full-scale development of one of Russia’s largest proven gas fields in the Yamal peninsula, the Kremlin reported on Wednesday.

Why does Russia have such a low unemployment rate?
Statistically, Russia can be compared to the most developed countries in terms of its unemployment rate. Nevertheless, this doesn’t mean that the country’s labor market is trouble-free.

Russia’s business confidence improves, but consumer confidence remains depressed
Russian President Vladimir Putin is right to be concerned about rising discontent among ordinary Russians, although his personal ratings are largely unaffected, but business has become a little more confident.

– Business

Russia’s corporate profits up to a three year high in November 2018
Cumulative Russian corporate profit hit a three year high of RUB12.8 trillion ($194.8bn) in November, or a monthly profit of RUB1.3 trillion, according to Rosstat.

Russian Troika Dialog bank investigation reveals offshore money laundering scheme
The first investment bank in Russia Troika Dialog of Ruben Vardanian has been implicated in organising an international money laundering ring in the investigation of the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) published by Meduza, the Guardian and Suddeutsche Zeitung.

Russia’s Largest Farmland Owners
The world’s largest country by territory, Russia ranks third in the world in terms of arable land with 123 million hectares. Here’s a look at the tycoons, offshore firms, and family of a former agriculture minister who own most of it.

Russian businessmen call for release of detained U.S. investor
Several prominent Russian businessmen on Thursday called for detained U.S. investor Michael Calvey to be released from a pre-trial detention facility on bail, saying his treatment at the hands of the authorities over fraud charges looked too harsh.

Ford Sollers to shut down plants in Russia, stop imports
Ford Sollers, a joint venture of Ford car major and car assembler Sollers, will stop the production of Ford-branded cars in Russia and downsize its staff, the company said on March 27. Ford will also stop importing its vehicles to Russia.

Russia’s online exports could reach $10bn in up to 7 years
Russia’s online exports of goods could reach $10bn in 3-7 years, according to the estimates of eBay Russia and Emerging Europe cited by Prime on March 28.

– Banking and Finance

Russia’s banking sector trebles profits in January y/y to $4bn
Russia’s banking sector is back in profit and earned RUB264bn ($4bn) in January, according to Central Bank of Russia (CBR) data released on February 28.

BRICS countries could launch integrated payment system
Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa are currently developing a common payment system designed to be used from any of the five countries with their local currencies, reports East-West Digital News (EWDN).

Russia backs global use of its alternative SWIFT system
Russian lawmakers on Tuesday backed the international use of a Russian alternative system for the global financial messaging network SWIFT designed by Moscow to eliminate the risk of Western sanctions.

Russia places $3bn and €0.75bn Eurobonds in biggest issue in six years
Russia’s Finance Ministry has swiftly placed $3bn and €0.75bn worth of Eurobonds, maturing in 2035 and yielding 5.1% and 2025/2.375%, respectively – the biggest issue in six years. The issue was organised by VTB Capital and Gazprombank.

Russia seen cutting rate in 2019 amid stable inflation outlook
The Russian central bank is likely to cut interest rates near the end of this year after inflationary expectations stabilized over the past month, a Reuters monthly poll of 19 analysts and economists showed on Friday.

 

Policy and Conflict Post SovietPolitics

Online voting and other reforms are coming to Russia in September. Opposition politicians are skeptical.
Here, Meduza summarizes these new proposals, which are set to take effect as early as September 2019.

Is Putin’s Russia Entering a Regime Crisis?
Regime transformations, whether revolutionary (extra-legal transformation to a new order led either from below (society-led) or above(state military- or bureaucrat-led) or transitional (non-revolutionary regime change either imposed from above or negotiated between elements of the regime and a societal opposition), are routinely preceded by the regime’s decay.

Rosstat: Politicization or Modernization?
In recent weeks, there has been cynical coverage of the dismissal of Russian state statistics director Alexander Surinov, and his replacement by Pavel Malkov; especially as it was soon followed by an upwards revision of GDP growth since 2016 (including 2.3% growth in 2018 vs. expectations of 1.5%-2.0%).

Russian Duma Passes Bills Banning ‘Fake News’ And ‘Insults’
Russia’s State Duma has approved legislation that would block websites that publish what the authorities deem to be “fake news” and penalizing websites that “insult” authorities, state symbols, and what the legislation vaguely describes as Russian “society.”

Russian Duma Speaker Rebukes Economy Minister In Sign Of Tension
The speaker of the Russian State Duma halted an appearance by Economic Development Minister Maksim Oreshkin and told him to come back another time, a rare rebuke that underscored tension and rivalries in President Vladimir Putin’s ruling elite.

Russian minister schooled by MPs & sent off to prepare better in unprecedented move
Russia’s parliament has rejected a report by a cabinet minister and told him to come back with a more comprehensive one in a few weeks – the “first time in 30 years” that such a scenario occurred, according to one party leader.

The Price Russia Has Paid for Crimea
The five years that have followed the events of 2014, regardless of whether you refer to those events as annexation, the Russian spring, a Putinist coup, reunification, a homecoming, an historic choice and so on, have emerged as a whole set of consequences powerful in terms of determining history, having a lasting influence, and shaping Russia as a whole, that is, impacting Russian domestic politics, the Russian economy, and the self-awareness of large segments of the Russian populace.

Russia’s feared mafia leaders in ‘shock’ as Vladimir Putin shows who’s boss
Russia’s mob bosses have been able to avoid prosecution by limiting their direct involvement in criminal acts. A change in law will make being in charge of a criminal organization enough to convict them.

Opium poppy growth to become legal in Russia to counter possible Western sanctions
The Russian parliament has furthered a bill, which seeks to legalize growth of plants that can be used to produce opioids. The measure is meant to ensure that Russia has a steady supply of raw materials for producing painkillers.

5 Years Since Russia’s Intervention in Ukraine: Has Putin’s Gamble Paid Off?
In February 2014 Russia’s “little green men” began a not-so-covert military intervention in Ukraine, stoking a conflict that has killed 13,000. In the West, Moscow’s actions were roundly condemned; for the Kremlin, they surely look different

Russia Ditches Real Income Data That Has Slumped for Five Years
Russia will stop publishing monthly data that’s shown a slump in disposable incomes for five straight years after the indicator was criticized for using methodology that’s decades out of date.

4 questions (and answers) to help you understand Russian taxes
Whether you aspire to move to Russia one day or are simply curious about the taxes here, here’s a brief guide about the inner workings of Russia’s tax system.

Can’t do the time, don’t do the crime: Russia hits mob bosses with longer jail terms
The law stipulates that criminal kingpins cannot be sentenced to less than what the law specifically states and cannot receive a suspended sentence.

More Than 1,300 Russian Officials Fired for Corruption in 2018
More than 1,300 Russian state officials suspected of violating corruption rules were fired for loss of trust last year, federal prosecutors said Tuesday.

 

Demographics

Russia Will Be One-Third Muslim in 15 Years, Chief Mufti Predicts
Around 30 percent of the Russian population will practice Islam within the next 15 years, Russia’s grand mufti has predicted, citing demographic trends.

Life Expectancy in Russia Inches Upward to 73
Average life expectancy in Russia has reached 73 years, a top health official said on Thursday.

Life Expectancy in Russian Cities
The post-Soviet economic crisis overwhelmingly impinged on the life expectancy of the less well educated (as most of the mortality increase accrued to heavier drinking; more education being associated with higher IQ, greater foresight, etc).

 

Daily Life / Civil Society

10 key numbers on Internet usage in Russia
Every year, the social media management platform Hootsuite and the We Are Social agency compiles a Global Digital Yearbook that covers developments in internet, social media, mobile and e-commerce usage throughout the world, reports East-West Digital News (EWDN).

Public backlash prompts officials in Irkutsk to audit construction of bottling plant that would have exported Lake Baikal water to China
This Tuesday, March 12, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev ordered National Resources and Environment Minister Dmitry Kobylkin to verify that the construction of a bottling facility in the Lake Baikal area complies with “the strictest environmental standards.”

How ordinary Crimeans helped Russia annex their home
Five years on, the role of local people in Russia’s annexation of Crimea has been underestimated. Yet their help was vital in seizing the peninsula for Russia.

Who Spearheads Patriotic Upbringing in Russia?
Patriotism in Russia is deeply rooted in the Soviet era and communist doctrines. It is the cornerstone of the country’s identity, national security, military manifestation, and the “openness” or “closeness” of its society to the world.

Russian Defense Ministry to Create Film Studio for Military Movies
Russia’s Defense Ministry plans to establish a film studio to produce movies about the modern Russian army, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu announced Tuesday.

As Opposition Wins Mount, Russians Increasingly Believe Their Votes Matter
With every victory of opposition figures at the municipal or regional level, the most recent being that of a 28-year-old homemaker in Ust-Ilimsk, Russian experts say, ever more Russians especially outside of major cities like Moscow are realizing that their votes matter and that voting can be both an effective and safe means of dissent.

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.