MOSCOW – Has Russia’s economic crisis ended? That depends on who you ask. Ask Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, or any official of his United Russia party, and you will be told, “Of course it is over.” They will even produce proof in the form of an unemployment rate that does not rise, unprecedented increases in pensions, and strong growth in construction and metal-working.
Of course, all these comparisons are made with how things stood last month rather than with the country’s pre-crisis economic performance. Then there is another “miracle” that the government is starting to trumpet, one discovered in August 2009: an increase in Russia’s population. Unfortunately, in no month before or since have births outpaced deaths.
Ask a member of the opposition whether the crisis has ended, and you will be told that it is only just beginning. Gazprom’s production is falling at a dizzying pace; the country’s single-industry “mono-towns” are dying.
There is truth in both views about the state of Russia’s economy, but because the government controls all the major television channels, it is succeeding in enforcing its view of the situation. Indeed, the opposition has access only to a few newspapers and radio stations, leaving the Internet the sole remaining space of freedom in Russia. But there you can read very pessimistic estimates of the country’s economic future. So the Kremlin blinds its citizens with rosy scenarios, while the Internet over-dramatizes reality.