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What "quality of life" can the Russian regions expect in the near future?

What "quality of life" can the Russian regions expect in the near future?

Andrey Akhremenko

Head of the Laboratory of Mathematical Methods of Political Analysis and Forecasting of the Faculty of Political Science of the Moscow State University

Andrei Akhremenko, Head of the Laboratory for Mathematical Methods of Political Analysis and Forecasting at the Faculty of Political Science, Moscow State University:
The quality of life is not only the bare figures of GDP, economic indicators and data on the gold reserve, but also the objective living conditions of citizens. For several years now, the staff of the Laboratory of Mathematical Methods of Political Analysis and Forecasting of the Faculty of Political Science of Moscow State University have been analyzing state statistics and building Rating of the quality of life of Russian regions. With the head of the laboratory, Andrei Akhremenko, correspondent EastRussia.Ru Ekaterina Dobrynina talked.

- The concept of quality of life in different countries is interpreted differently, which indicators were particularly important in relation to Russia?

- Our integral index includes data that can be divided into five blocks: personal security, housing conditions of the population, social sphere, public health, ecology, within each block there are also a number of indicators. If desired, any other parameters could be added, but the picture would not change significantly.

One of the main differences between our rating and foreign peers is that in Europe the concept of “quality of life” also includes subjective assessments obtained in the course of sociological surveys. We didn't do this for two reasons. First, it would be unrealistic for us to conduct separate opinion polls in each region of the Russian Federation based on a representative sample, this is beyond the power and affordability of even large sociological services. Secondly, there was no extreme need for such polls, on the contrary, they could distort reality. Citizens' self-awareness is not always an absolute truth. For example, crime rates in Moscow are not at all the worst in comparison with other regions, but in any polls, citizens usually call the situation "very bad". Different expectations, different standards and requirements. And somewhere on the edge of Russia they repeat after the rapper-parodist: “I walked home late, gave a lot of turnips, remained alive - and thank you, be happy! ". And really don't worry, don't worry about such "little things". Therefore, we focused on the data of official state statistics. It allows you to fairly accurately imagine the key trends and positions of the regions in the overall ranking. In doing so, of course, we took the most significant of the statistical indicators. It is very important in this case not to confuse two things - the economic situation in the region and the quality of life in it. There are a number of territories (the same Irkutsk Oblast) that are rich in resources and are clearly not “poor” in terms of budgetary provision, however, in terms of the integral indicator of the quality of life, they are far in the tail of the rating ...

- Is it possible at all to compare such regions as the Far East with the Center or the same North Caucasus? This is essentially "different Russia" ...

- In general, the comparison is possible precisely because we do not focus on economic indicators alone, the volume of production, and so on. It is clear that the regions of the Far East have their own peculiarities, other prices operate, these territories depend heavily on northern deliveries, on weather conditions, on transport accessibility, here is another demographic situation, etc. Naturally, speaking of the level of poverty, we take into account the price differences in the regions and, for example, that the subsistence minimum is an indicator that is established by the decision of local authorities, that is, for some reason for "political" reasons.

We have to take into account a number of behavioral standards. For example, let's call a spade a spade: in parts of the regions (including the Far East), initially, even at the stage of their development, a whole network of camps and prisons arose. Many former prisoners, even when freed, nevertheless settled in these places, since they had nowhere to go. It is clear that staying in prison or for "chemistry" does not improve health, does not create standards for a healthy lifestyle and does not ennoble a person. It is not surprising that in the same Magadan Region, much more low-quality alcohol is drunk than in the regions of the Northern Caucasus similar in purely economic terms, where, in turn, there are own problems, but of a different nature. The farther from Moscow to the east, the stronger the "periphery" is felt, the general situation worsens, and modern behavioral standards are spreading more slowly.

- How can we compare these trends with the hopes for a "breakthrough", "activation of growth points" in the Far East, "accelerated development" of the region, etc.?

- Unfortunately, there are still no prerequisites for a “breakthrough” in terms of the level and quality of life in the Far East. On the one hand, this is the general trend for all of Russia, and this federal district is even slightly ahead of the conditional “average Russian territory”. In the country, we were able to identify only 8 regions where the situation is relatively good and there are prospects for development, and in this group of leaders there are no subjects from FEFD. On the contrary, the quality of life regions of the Far East are rather outsiders, they are in the middle of the rating and closer to its end (see chart and table). I repeat: we are not talking now about the amounts of investments, not about the size of the budget or mineral reserves, but about how the population of the regions lives.
Leaders and outsiders on the quality of life in 2012
Quality of life 2012 Rank 2012 Quality of life 2012 Rank 2012
Saint Petersburg 1,00 1 Nenets Autonomous District 0,75 73
Kaliningrad region 0,96 2 The Republic of Dagestan 0,75 74
The Republic of Tatarstan 0,95 3 Altai Republic 0,74 75
Belgorod region 0,95 4 Trans-Baikal Territory 0,72 76
Murmansk region 0,94 5 Amur Region 0,71 77
Moscow 0,94 6 The Republic of Sakha (Yakutia) 0,70 78
Moscow region 0,94 7 The Jewish Autonomous Region 0,67 79
Voronezh region 0,93 8 The Republic of Ingushetia 0,62 80
Lipetsk region 0,93 9 Chukotka Autonomous Okrug 0,62 81
Republic of North Ossetia Alania 0,93 10 The Republic of Tuva 0,37 82
Russia 0,85 0,85


In our opinion, there is no resources for a "breakthrough" for objective reasons. The graph clearly shows how the periods of growth in the quality of life have been replaced in recent years by stagnation and decline. Then the country emerged from the "pit" into a more natural position for itself. Now the growth, which was largely due to inertia, slowed down, it practically does not exist. In the coming years, one should expect, if not a recession, then a stagnation in the quality of life indicators. Former mechanisms will not work.

- Which regions of the Far East are presented to you in the near future more and less stable and promising?

- Among the regions of the Far East, two clusters are clearly traced: relatively prosperous and problematic. Magadan region is not bad, there are prospects for the Khabarovsk Territory and Primorye. On Sakhalin, it is not a fact that the growth of the quality of life will be significant, but this region will definitely not fall below the middle of the general list. According to the dynamics that we see now, not a very good picture shows Yakutia. Traditionally, the difficult situation in the Jewish Autonomous Region. It is almost impossible to predict something in such unstable regions as Chukotka. But to say that everything is definitely bad, I would not. There are few resources in the same EAO or Chukotka, but there are many hopes, since the inertial reserves of opportunities for growth are not yet exhausted. Perhaps in a number of industries, growth (with the help of the center) will be possible. But I have not yet heard that in Chukotka going to hold some kind of summit or Olympics ...

- You build your forecasts on statistical data. Do you have to make an amendment to "local creativity" - in other words, to distortions and additions in key figures?

- Quality of life is an indicator rather steady, and when sharp and unmotivated fluctuations suddenly begin to be noted in it, this is a reason to think. There are regions where these figures traditionally raise questions. The most vivid example is the Republic of Ingushetia, where indicators are constantly “jumping”. By the way, even in Chechnya, there has recently been a change for the better, and although the statistics for this republic are far from complete, with each passing year it becomes more reliable. As for the Far East, the statistics are the most unstable in Chukotka. I don’t think that the point here is in someone’s desire to “retouch the picture,” rather, these are problems of local statistics bodies. What is also not good. And sharp fluctuations in data are always observed in those regions where there are difficulties with the quality of life.

As for the selection of data, we naturally strive to reduce the effect of unreliable statistics to a minimum. Given the level of crime, we take as the data to calculate not the number of all crimes for 10 thousand of the population, but only the number of murders. It is well known that a significant part of the offenses are simply not registered (for example, in the same North Caucasus, judging only from the statistics of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the situation is close to ideal). But murder as the most serious kind of crime is more difficult to hide than others. Therefore, the field of opportunities for "collective creativity" in the siloviki is narrowed. Actually in the same way we act in other blocks. I would not say that I have a total distrust of statistics, but ... we live in Russia and understand its realities.

- Last year, the Far East experienced a devastating flood. Did it greatly affect the quality of life in the affected regions and in the Far Eastern Federal District as a whole?

- Accurate data will be known by the end of the year. In the meantime, I can say that the flood did not bring catastrophic consequences. In some ways, even the opposite: the region was focused attention, federal funds were allocated, and "political will" was shown. Such disasters do not usually have a significant impact on the quality of life in the long run; their consequences have already been learned to be eliminated quickly and efficiently. The Khabarovsk Territory, of course, is not Moscow 1812 year, when "the fire helped her much to decorate," but in any case, the dilapidated housing fund will be updated and people will not leave without the help of the power of the region.

- By the way, about the leaders. They say that people make a story. Without Peter the Great, no St. Petersburg in the marsh itself will grow. If we talk about local and regional authorities - can they not only "patch holes", but also seriously contribute to the growth of the territories that are now managed?

- I can not say much about the local authorities. I think that the underfunding of municipal government, which is celebrated throughout the country, practically does not give it the opportunity to "deploy wings" (and these wings were not too wide and strong). The regional authorities have several more opportunities. But still, in my opinion, even the most progressive and progressively thinking governor can only to a small extent shift the situation from the level of "permafrost." The quality of life in the regions is different, but this is only to a small extent due to the personal efforts of the leaders of these subjects of the federation. Roughly speaking, the contribution of "personalities to history" can be estimated at twenty percent. And other problems of the quality of life, unfortunately, the measures of personnel policy can not be solved. It requires not just new leaders and top managers, but a slow restructuring of people's minds, creating economic conditions, changing behavioral standards, solving technical and infrastructural problems.

“Just such a restructuring should be undertaken by the new team of the Ministry of Eastern and Eastern Development ... Do you think that the center now has an intelligible regional policy in general and in the Far East in particular?”

- I'm not a specialist in regional politics. I can judge only by what I see, and my impression is that deep down our authorities still rely on the concept of "points of growth". We are sure that it is only necessary to create a "hotbed" (for example, in Vladivostok for the APEC summit or somewhere else), it will start to grow by itself and pull all the other territories behind it. I do not think this point of view is sound. The mechanism of such growth is not at all obvious, but it is well understood how various corruption schemes will work in such "growth points". In my opinion, the regional policy in Russia should consist first of all in changing the general, global rules of the game, and not in individual projects. The fact that Russia will be exported by a curve built on several supporting "points" would not be much to be hoped for.

- You have already been building and publishing your quality of life ratings for years. How do the regional authorities react to this, which are ahead of Russia and behind it all? Do they listen to expert assessments and advice?

- Those who are on the leaderboard react very well. They even sometimes call us. In the Kaliningrad press, I read with interest that it turns out that my dream is to move in permanently with them. All this, of course, is not called “listening carefully” to our conclusions. The only one who usually reacts very sensitively to such things is the Republic of Tatarstan. Its representatives even counted the rating according to our methodology. And this is a general exception. I think the fact is that for the governor all these independent studies are not very important, his career does not depend on such assessments, and he operates with time intervals for a maximum of a year or two to five, before elections or reassignment. Now, if, as is the case with political ratings, there were rumors - they say, they are “read in the Kremlin” ... But we do not dispel rumors. We count and value. And we consider it our duty to do analysis and forecasts without adjustments for policies and other conjuncture. 

Read more: The Far East: State ambitions and the real quality of life

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