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by John Helmer, Moscow 
  @bears_with

The reason for rising discontent among Russians is obvious – except to the Anglo-American and German press and the governments prompting them. All Russians know this except for the young living at home, dependent on their family’s income.

The prices for the food in the family grocery basket have been rising sharply since last September. From the start of January, however, Russians have had less income, and they have been forced to spend significantly less on their consumption needs. In the last week of January, their spending was 20% less than the week before; 14% less than the same week a year ago.  On current forecasts for food prices and income to the start of spring, the pinch is going to get worse. Everyone in Russia understands this, except the young sitting in front of computer screens and smartphones studying virtually; messaging on the well-known platforms; playing internet games.  

The level of influence of Alexei Navalny’s campaign since he began the Novichok operation in August, which he has now transformed into his imprisonment campaign, has had no significant impact to his benefit among Russians – except among a minority of the young. Overall, the measured change in public approval for Navalny over this period – from 4% to 5% in five months — is within the margin for statistical error. He is an internet game, a statistical blip.

Start with a chart showing the takeoff in prices for cooking oil and sugar; and more modest growth in flour prices. Bread, by contrast, has been growing in price by almost double that of flour – 8% — while flour products like macaroni and pasta have jumped 12%.  

Source: https://ria.ru/

Now a second chart – this illustrates the movement between last August and the start of this month in the price of sugar in the sugar-growing region of Krasnodar, and in Moscow. The lines reveal how rapidly the prices have moved up. The extension to April 1, according to the price targets announced by the federal government, indicates a retail price in Moscow of Rb46 per kilogram – that’s a hike of another 15%.

THE PRICE OF SUGAR, AUGUST 7, 2020, TO FEBRUARY 4, 2021

Source: http://sugar.ru/regpricesgraph 

The lag in reporting for January and February of this year by Rosstat, the Russian state statistical agency,  still allows the understanding that for Russian consumers, on average, there was double-digit growth in staple prices to the end of December – 20.1% for cereals (including buckwheat kasha); fruit and vegetables, 17.4%; eggs, 15.1%;  12.1% for pasta.  

Here is Rosstat’s chart comparing the percentage growth of prices for individual foodstuffs in December last, compared to the previous month, November 2020.  Cucumbers and tomatoes lead — cucumbers jumped by 47.5%; tomatoes by 26.1%; potatoes, 9.6%.

PERCENTAGE GROWTH OF PRICES, DECEMBER 2020 COMPARED TO NOVEMBER 2020,  FOR A SELECTION OF FOODSTUFFS

Source: https://rosstat.gov.ru/

The story of price acceleration for the Russian potato can be followed in detail here.

The agro-industry research group in Moscow, AB Centre, illustrates the inflation for a slightly different basket of foodstuffs between October 2019 and October 2020. Sarrasin (buckwheat) leads, but its price has now fallen significantly.  Bread prices are currently expected to rise between 3% and 10% until the spring.  

Source: https://ab-centre.ru/news/

The Rosstat picture is clear enough. But it doesn’t reveal how different (worse) the situation is, and is perceived to be by particular groups of Russians in cities around the country. This is analysed and reported regularly by the Romir research holding in Moscow. Romir surveys the purchasing records kept by 15,000 households (about 40,000 individuals) located in 200 cities around the country. They regularly send Romir  copies of their shopping receipts.

Last week, Romir reported on the shopping receipt totals for this sample. The chart reveals the usual seasonal increase in household outlays in the weeks preceding the New Year and Christmas holidays, and the cutback during the holiday period itself. But this year, instead of the usual recovery of consumer spending after the return to work and income, there has been a dramatic downturn.  

DYNAMICS OF WEEKLY SPENDING IN ROUBLES OF RUSSIANS LIVING IN CITIES OF OVER 100,000, NOVEMBER 2, 2020, TO JANUARY 31, 2021

Source: https://romir.ru/studies/

From January 25 to 31, 2021, the shopping outlays of Russians fell to Rb3,824.  This was Rb949 rubles (19.9%) less than the amount they spent the week before, from January 18 to 24;  and Rb634 (14.2%) less than was spent in the comparable week of 2020.  The reduction, said Inna Karaeva, Romir’s executive director, “is primarily due to reduced frequency of visits to the shops. There are a number of reasons for this: the high level of spending in previous weeks, cold weather in many cities of Russia, and a drop in population incomes.” In Moscow, the average temperature in January of this year was not significantly lower than in 2020. The key factor is thus the drop in incomes.

This combination of rising food prices and falling incomes has a direct impact on political sentiment. The Levada polling centre in Moscow reported that a survey of the capital’s residents in December showed that rising prices were the leading cause of concern, far outstripping Covid-19 issues.  In its most recent poll published on February 4, Levada reported that the approval rating for President Vladimir Putin nationwide had peaked in September at 69%, and was now down to 64%.

PUBLIC APPROVAL OF PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN’S PERFORMANCE

Source: https://www.levada.ru/

Parallel polling of the same nationwide sample by Levada revealed that,  given a free choice to name political figures whom they trusted most, the proportion of Russians mentioning Navalny was 5% — up from 4% when same survey was last taken in September; Navalny’s trust score has ranged between 3% and 5% for more than a year now. The percentage sampling error is 1.5%.  

NATIONAL FIGURES IN WHOM YOU HAVE MOST TRUST

Source: https://www.levada.ru/

Russian disapproval of Navalny has been growing, however.

In September 50% of Levada’s national sample expressed their disapproval of him; this has now risen to 56%. More than two-thirds of those polled said they had not changed their view of Navalny during the months of intensive publicity. The growth of positive sentiment towards him during this time, according to Levada, has been concentrated in the 18-24 age group and those viewing Twitter, Instagram, Telegram, and other social media.



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