SEATTLE, Washington — Poverty within Russian is difficult to measure on a blanketed scale. Russia is divided into 85 official regions, each experiencing poverty a little bit differently. For instance, the administration division surrounding the two most populous Russian cities, Moscow and St. Petersburg, have very high living standards compared to some of the less prosperous regions. According to a 2017 report by the Russian Finance Ministry, only 10 out of Russia’s 85 regions are economically stable. The other 75 rely heavily on direct federal subsidies.
Fighting Poverty in Russia
In 2012, when President Vladimir Putin was re-elected for his third term in office, his administration declared a commitment to cutting the poverty rate in half. They sectioned off 10 trillion rubles to develop education, healthcare, and infrastructure to raise impoverished populations’ standard of living. While this strategy seemingly worked between 2012 and 2013, the percentage of the population living in poverty has increased every year between 2013 and 2020.
The independent news source Realnoe Vremya conducted its own investigation and rated every Russian region’s standard of living through specific indicators. These indicators include “the ratio of wages to local subsistence minimum, poverty and unemployment, as well as the ratio of per capita income to the cost of the fixed set of consumer goods and services.” The study concluded that only 10 areas in Russia had high living standards, while 13 fell under the “red” category, indicating dangerously low standards of living.
One region, however, stands out among all these facts and figures. Realnoe Vremya’s study rated the Republic of Tatarstan “green,” the only green-rated region in all of the Volga Federal District. Tatarstan isn’t like Moscow and St. Petersburg. It is not a financial region, nor a tourist destination. So, how has it managed to evade the low standards of living and poverty of the district? What makes it different?
Employment Stability in Tatarstan and Kazan
The main difference between Tatarstan and the surrounding regions is the availability of new work opportunities, which lead to lower unemployment rates. Kazan, the capital of Tatarstan, located on the Volga river banks, and about 822 km east of Moscow, has become an industrial hub in the past four years. Construction and automotive businesses accounted for the highest paying vacancies in the city and decreased the number of Russian active jobseekers by 10%. In a July 2020 analytics report by the Avito Jobs’ analytic center, Kazan citizens received, on average, 42,100 rubles a month, meaning that the average salary rose by 12% since June 2019. This rise in salary wages places the city as the fourth most prosperous Russian city behind Moscow, St. Petersburg and Yekaterinburg.
Employment opportunities are not the only thing Kazan and the larger Tatarstan republic is doing to combat poverty. In a program dedicated to “redistribution,” Tatarstan is reassessing what it means to be “poor” and how best to support individuals and families who are “really in need.” The most groundbreaking initiative of these redistribution efforts was establishing free daycare for young children and comprehensive health care for children under 3 years of age. These new measures were rolled out in January 2020 and have undoubtedly contributed to the region’s higher standard of living. Now that parents can go to work and obtain livable wages without worrying about their children at home, more and more families are rising out of poverty.
The Russian Ecocity
The final strategy Tatarstan officials are pursuing is the implementation of the “Russian ecocity.” Kazan, the aforementioned hub of industry, has undergone numerous construction projects in recent years to increase sustainability and reinvigorate the job market. It all started with a team dedicated to revamping public parks. Natalia Fishman-Bekmambetova, the 24-year-old who spearheaded the project, was responsible for the construction of 328 parks.
This project then extended its reach when Rustam Minnikhanov, Tatarstan’s president, issued an open invitation to international architects to create a new eco-district not far from the heart of the capital. As a result, Kazan became Russia’s first ecocity. Designs were submitted from France, Belgium, England and even local Russians. Tartarstan used this blend of local and international knowledge to build even more sustainable buildings and practices. Smaller initiatives, such as bike paths and readily available trash and recycling bins, greatly impacted the community. Many had never seen such a thing before, even in the metropolis cities of Moscow and St. Petersburg.
These new projects continue to provide jobs for Tatar workers and provide affordable, sustainable housing and new means of employment in the future. Through the support of local and international communities, the Tatarstan region in one of Russia’s most impoverished districts reduced poverty in Russia and provided better living standards for its residents, all while establishing sustainable practices.