Inequality, Poverty Characterize Post-Soviet States, Statistics Show – Analysis


Even though the top ten percent of the population of the post-Soviet states are wealthier than they ever were in the past, three out of every four residents of the Russian Federation are now poor, according to official statistics, with the situation being even worse in Kazakhstan, Ukraine and Azerbaijan and only a little better in Belarus.

In an article in today’s “Nezavisimaya gazeta,” Anastsiya Bashkatova reports on what she describes as “the shocking findings about the inequality of incomes and poverty” in five post-Soviet states, a situation which has made “Russia and its nearest neighbors in the CIS brothers in social unhappiness” (

That is because, Bashkatova continues, “the share of citizens with mid-range incomes in the largest economies of the CIS is several times lower than in socially oriented states,” an outcome that shows that “in essence, on the post-Soviet space have been built anti-social models of the economy.”

The economies of the five countries the experts reported on in “Voprosy statistiki” – Russia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Belarus and Azerbaijan – share that in common with “the overwhelming majorities” of their populations belong to “the most needy and least secure stratas” and with “the highly paid either forming a minority or being absent statistically.”

Comparing the social pyramids in these countries with those typical of socially oriented countries is truly disturbing, the “Nezavisimaya gazeta” journalist says. In the latter, she points out, there are almost no citizens among the truly poor, those with less than average incomes form “about 20 percent,” those in the middle “about 60 percent,” and those well-paid 20 percent.

“Not one of the CIS countries listed,” she notes, “corresponded to this pattern of developed countries or was even close to it,” according to the analysis published in the Rosstat journal of data from 2008. Instead, they had far more poor and far fewer in the middle as far as income is concerned.

Indeed, “according to the data of sociologists and statisticians, in Russian there really is almost no middle class, because about 96 percent of Russians are poor and are distinguished from one another only by the level of impoverishment.” Only one percent is well-off by income, the investigators found.

The situation in Belarus is marginally better, “but in Kazakhstan, Ukraine and Azerbaijan,” it is worse with “more than 90 percent” of the population part of the needy or low paid segments. In other CIS countries, the situation may be even worse. And the researchers say that all are “very far from the optimal market model of distribution.”

Moreover, they argue, according to the “Nezavisimaya gazeta” report, that the situation is even worse than that because their figures were based on income requirements set by the governments of these countries, requirements that are “much lower than in developed countries” and thus allow the regimes involved to claim more progress than they have in fact made.

“If one applies to the CIS countries western measures of minimum wages,” Bashkatova writes, “then Russia along with its nearest neighbors falls more clearly in the group of the poor nations of the third world,” an indictment of their governments and a likely source of growing social tensions.

Paul Goble

Paul Goble is a longtime specialist on ethnic and religious questions in Eurasia. Most recently, he was director of research and publications at the Azerbaijan Diplomatic Academy. Earlier, he served as vice dean for the social sciences and humanities at Audentes University in Tallinn and a senior research associate at the EuroCollege of the University of Tartu in Estonia. He has served in various capacities in the U.S. State Department, the Central Intelligence Agency and the International Broadcasting Bureau as well as at the Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Mr. Goble maintains the Window on Eurasia blog and can be contacted directly at [email protected] .

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