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High poverty and low income: what fuels Russia’s Navalny protests

While the jailing of opposition activist Alexei Navalny has been the catalyst for nationwide protests across Russia over the past two weeks, much of the public anger at President Vladimir Putin’s government was fuelled by a growing feeling of economic fear that is widespread across the country.

Amid stagnant growth, a collapse in investment, and austerity policies by Putin’s government, incomes have fallen for five of the past seven years. In 2020, the average Russian had 11 percent less to spend than in 2013 and Russia’s gross domestic product (GDP) per capita is now 30 percent lower than in 2013.

Then, the pandemic has exposed a failure to tackle long standing structural problems, such as underfunded hospitals and schools, low pensions, and high levels of corruption. That coupled with austere spending such as raising the pension age and higher retail taxes only fueled more anger at the government.

Navalny has not just focused on exposing alleged corruption among the ruling elite. In April, he proposed an economic stimulus plan for Russians, calling for cash handouts of as much as 40,000 RUB (ruble) per adult, a cancelation of utility bills for the duration of the pandemic, and providing 2 trillion RUB worth of grants to small businesses. The sense of feeling poorer has driven public support for Putin’s United Russia party to historic lows, according to political analysts. This could be a deciding factor in the upcoming Parliamentary election this September, whose outcome would heavily affect the outlook of Russia in the upcoming years.

Key terms:

  1. stagnant growth

  2. austerity policy

  3. gross domestic product (GDP)

  4. structural problems

  5. corruption

Key questions:

  1. What do you think is the main cause behind Navalny’s protest in Russia?

  2. How do you think the pandemic has worsened people's economic situation?

  3. What do think will be the outcome of the current protest?

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