Gap between rich and poor Russians grows

The gap between the wealthiest and the poorest Russians now stands at 14.9 times, reads a report of the Federal State Statistics Service on the country's social and economic development in Q1 2005 and quoted in the daily Noviye Izvestia.

At the beginning of the year the gap was 14.8 times, but grew by 0.1 times in April. According to official data, the richest 10% of the population received 29.8% of its income in Q1, whereas the poorest 10% received only 2%.

The World Trade Organization views a gap of 14.2 times as enough to present a real danger of social unrest in a country. Russia crossed this line in 2003, with a gap of 14.3.

Independent experts say that the real situation is even worse than the picture painted by official statistics. Sergei Mitrokhin, a deputy chairman of the Yabloko party, maintains that the Statistics Service has "as always" adjusted figures to please the country's leadership. He claims that expenditures, particularly housing and communal service bills, which consume most earnings, were not completely taken into account while living standards were calculated. Moreover, in his opinion, inflation was not considered in full either, the paper adds.

Vyacheslav Bobkov, the head of the All-Russian Center of Living Standards, says the huge differences in regional living standards represent one of the most serious problems in the Russian economy and are one reason for the gap.

Russia's wealthiest regions are Moscow, St. Petersburg, and the northern Yamal-Nenets, Khanty-Mansi, and Nenets autonomous areas, where many oil and natural gas fields are located.

The poorest are the Bryansk and Kursk regions, which border on Ukraine, the Tula region (200km south of Moscow), and two North Caucasus republics, Karachayevo-Cherkessiya and Ingushetia.

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