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Igor Mezhul

An elderly man walking in St. Petersburg, Russia.

The Russian Federation is one of the world’s most unequal countries regarding 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 average citizens’ entire life savings; 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 percent of Russians held 30 percent of the wealth, while the top 10 percent held 24 percent of Russia’s wealth.  By 2019, the bottom 50 percent and the top one percent each owned approximately 20 percent 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.