Putin to the Russian Far East: ‘Why do you need cars? You don’t have roads.’

One of the four bridges in Primorye region of the Russian Far East that have collapsed in the first five months of 2016. (Image: kp.ru)

One of the four bridges in Primorye region of the Russian Far East that have collapsed in the first five months of 2016. (Image: kp.ru) 

International, More

Edited by: A. N.

Many Russians believe that Dmitry Medvedev long ago retired the Marie Antoinette prize for the most insensitive statement by a Russian official concerning the standard of living of the Russian people, a prize he keeps reacquiring with claims that things are getting better when in fact they are getting worse.

But it is quite possible that Vladimir Putin may edge out his prime minister with a statement that he made not long ago about Russians’ inability to afford cars given that prices for them have risen and the incomes of Russians have fallen. He asked Khabarovsk residents

“Why do you need cars? You don’t have roads.”

Commenting on the state of the Russian economy, Moscow commentator Aleksandr Nemets cites this remark in support of his contention that all official claims notwithstanding, the Russian economy isn’t coming out of the crisis. Instead, he says, it is mired in “a catastrophe” from which no exit is visible.

Among the statistics he adduces to make that argument are those showing a dramatic fall off in the sales of cars and light trucks since 2012 and the collapse of the Russian GDP from 2.232 trillion US dollars in 2013 to 1.10 trillion US dollars this year, a decline of 50 percent.

The former figure put Russia above India and Canada, although less than China and Brazil and sparked Moscow propagandists to talk about “overcoming Germany.” But the latter one means that Russia has fallen to 14th in the world, ahead of many developing countries but far behind those it normally compares itself with.

Russian officials, of course, contest these figures, claiming that the decline totaled only three percent over that period. But their claims show only that Rosstat and other figures in the Russian government simply lie, as any examination of the details of the country’s economy show, including those on automobile sales which have tanked.

According to Rosstat, real per capita incomes in Russia fell all of 15 or 16 percent, but it achieves those numbers only by manipulating inflation rates and thus putting itself in a position to claim that the declines in income and thus consumption were not as great as they in fact have been.

If one uses the inflation estimates of independent experts, per capita income fell over this period by 30 to 35 percent, more than twice what Moscow admits. Retail trade fell by 30 percent, and investment over this period fell “at a minimum” by 20 percent. State spending as a whole didn’t fall, but social spending collapsed.

That reflects the fact that spending on internal security and defense rose by 72 percent: from 2.2 trillion rubles in 2013 to 3.8 trillion in 2016.

  • A city in Russian interior
    A city in Russian interior
  • BUK-M2E at the Victory Day parade, Red Square, May 9, 2016. The Buk-M2E (NATO name SA-17 Grizzly) is a Russian made mobile medium-range surface-to-air missile (SAM) system designed to defend field troops and logistical installations against air threats. SA-17 Grizzly is an upgraded version of the proven Buk-M1 mobile air defense system and retains its main features. The SA-17 Grizzly is essentially a tracked chassis that carries a radar and a launcher with four missiles. A total of four ready to fire missiles are carried on a turntable type launcher assembly mounted on the vehicle's rear decking. The phased-array radar is mounted at a raised angle at the head of the turntable assembly. The Buk-M2 can engage a wide variety of targets from aircraft to missiles flying at an altitude of between 10 and 24,000 m out a maximum range of 50 km in given conditions. The SA-17 Grizzly can engage simultaneous of up to 24 targets flying from any direction. (Image: businessinsider.co.id)
    BUK-M2E at the Victory Day parade, Red Square, May 9, 2016. The Buk-M2E (NATO name SA-17 Grizzly) is a Russian made mobile medium-range surface-to-air missile (SAM) system designed to defend field troops and logistical installations against air threats. SA-17 Grizzly is an upgraded version of the proven Buk-M1 mobile air defense system and retains its main features. The SA-17 Grizzly is essentially a tracked chassis that carries a radar and a launcher with four missiles. A total of four ready to fire missiles are carried on a turntable type launcher assembly mounted on the vehicle's rear decking. The phased-array radar is mounted at a raised angle at the head of the turntable assembly. The Buk-M2 can engage a wide variety of targets from aircraft to missiles flying at an altitude of between 10 and 24,000 m out a maximum range of 50 km in given conditions. The SA-17 Grizzly can engage simultaneous of up to 24 targets flying from any direction. (Image: businessinsider.co.id)
  • A city in Russian interior
  • Military parade in Moscow, Russia
  • A city in Russian interior
    A city in Russian interior
  • Russian nuclear missile in the Red Square, Moscow (Image: vice.com)
  • A city in Russian interior
    A city in Russian interior
  • Troops in armoured personnel carriers salute during the Victory Day parade. Photograph: Grigory Dukor/Reuters
    Troops in armoured personnel carriers salute during the Victory Day parade. Photograph: Grigory Dukor/Reuters
  • A city in Russian interior
    A city in Russian interior
  • Troops of the Russian occupation force on parade in Sevastopol, Crimea on May 9, 2016 (Image: sevas.com)
    Troops of the Russian occupation force on parade in Sevastopol, Crimea on May 9, 2016 (Image: sevas.com)
  • Residents of an apartment building collapsing due to the lack of government maintenance in the city of Saratov, Russia put up the sign that says: "But We Hosted The Olympics!" (Image: om-saratov.ru, April 2015)
    Residents of an apartment building collapsing due to the lack of government maintenance in the city of Saratov, Russia put up the sign that says: "But We Hosted The Olympics!" (Image: om-saratov.ru, April 2015)
  • Vladimir Putin in 2013 standing in front of a Buk missile launcher similar to one used to shoot down the Flight MH17 a year later (source: BBC MH17 Documentary)
    Vladimir Putin in 2013 standing in front of a Buk missile launcher similar to one used to shoot down the Flight MH17 a year later (source: BBC MH17 Documentary)

And all these catastrophic declines become even more obvious if one focuses on those things that individual Russians can feel in their daily life. Among the ones Nemets cites are the following:

Not only do Russians now view a car once again as in Soviet times as a luxury, but a third of them lack the money to buy cheese, sausage or fish.

That isn’t a crisis: it is a catastrophe. Worse, it isn’t ending, Nemets concludes.


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Edited by: A. N.

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