Tue, 20 Apr 2021

Since last year, Irina Likhtenshtein, a 73-year-old retired translator and editor in the central Russian city of Kazan, has steadily watch her grocery bills climb.

Potatoes? They're up 40 percent, though she doesn't eat them much. Carrots are up 30 percent. Fish used to be around 10 rubles ($0.15) a kilogram, now it's 15. Quail is her go-to meat, but that's now 530 rubles ($7) for a half-kilogram, up from 490 rubles last year.

Her state pension is around 17,000 rubles (US$230) a month.

'It was never enough; now it's even less,' she said in a phone interview from the two-room apartment where she lives alone with her cat, Ryzhy. 'Of course, people are worried, you end up retiring, and you don't have any additional income. Prices keep going up and up.'

These days, it may not be endemic corruption or Aleksei Navalny's protests or even the continuing COVID-19 pandemic that's worrying the Kremlin most. It may be the marked rise in food prices.

According to data from the state statistics agency, Rosstat, cited by the government newspaper Rossiiskaya Gazeta, prices for basic food items have jumped across the board: potatoes, tomatoes, apples, margarine, chicken, cheeses. Since January 2020, food prices have risen 8.2 percent; vegetables 17.5 percent; fruits 13.5 percent.

And that's despite government orders late last year imposing price caps on certain goods. Those caps are now scheduled to be lifted as of March 31, meaning prices could jump even higher.

'I don't really understand why the government is doing this, what it is doing, because it is not possible to prevent prices from going up,' Vladislav Inozemtsev, an economist and director of the Moscow-based Center for Research on Post-Industrial Societies, told RFE/RL. 'Prices will rise. This is a fact that is under no doubt.'

Inflation Is Global?

The causes of the increases in food prices appear to be various. A recent report by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization points to an uptick in global commodity prices broadly. Russia's agriculture industry has thrived over the past two decades, as foreign investment has poured in, improving crop yields and fueling technological advances.

Among other things, that has helped make Russia the world's largest wheat exporter.

A woman pushes a shopping cart as she visits a food store in Moscow. (file photo)

During Putin's first two presidential terms, in 2000-08, the relative prosperity that has helped lift many Russians to the middle class has been largely fueled by high global prices. But the economy faces broader structural and societal problems, including corruption, weak rule-of-law standards, and transportation infrastructure.

Western economic sanctions imposed in 2014 after Russia annexed Ukraine's Crimea Peninsula also dented economic growth.

Since that time, average incomes have stagnated, and declined in real terms for the past eight years; incomes are now 10 percent below 2013 levels. Last year, according to Rosstat, real incomes fell by 3.5 percent.

Government statistics show that another 1 million Russians slipped below the poverty line last year, bringing the total figure to nearly 20 million. A poll by the independent survey organization Levada Center in November found that among lower-income Russians, only a third have any savings whatsoever.

Navalny Vs. Income

Russians' growing malaise was partially reflected in the wide national turnout for protests in January in support of Navalny, whose splashy anti-corruption campaigns have tapped into that discontent.

The protests were sparked by Navalny's arrest upon return to Russia in January, after recuperating in Germany for nearly five months from a nerve-agent poisoning that has been blamed on Russian intelligence agents.

Copyright (c) 2018. RFE/RL, Inc. Republished with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036

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