An elderly man walking in St. Petersburg, Russia.
The Russian Federation is one of the world’s most unequal countries in terms of wealth distribution. After the fall of the USSR, liberal market reform in Russia launched a period of economic instability, particularly for those with lower incomes, such as pensioners, who make up one-third of Russia’s population. Hyperinflation in the early 1990s wiped out entire life savings of average citizens and by 2018, average salaries had fallen 36% in real terms. Stagnating pension rates, surging prices for food and medicine, and rising inflation have left most Russian pensioners scrambling to meet basic needs.
In contrast, Russia’s economic transition has benefitted the wealthiest in society, including oligarchs and the ruling elite. In 1990, the lowest earning 50 per cent of Russians held 30 per cent of the wealth while the top 10 per cent of Russians held 24 per cent of Russia’s wealth. By 2019, the bottom 50 per cent and the top one per cent each owned approximately 20 per cent of Russia’s wealth, not including the staggering wealth held in offshore accounts, which some estimate to be 75% of Russia’s total GDP. Many of Russia’s most powerful and wealthy are close associates of President Vladimir Putin, who has held power as either President or Prime Minister since 1999. Putin’s time in power has been marked by reports of rampant corruption, patronage, and cronyism, which has eroded the average Russian citizens’ trust in their public institutions and authorities.