Staunton, January 26 – Russian officials insist that food prices have gone up in Kaliningrad only 22 percent over the last year, but a survey of markets and stores found that they have in fact risen 50 to 60 percent, a development that is forcing Kaliningraders to draw down their savings and cut back their consumption in serious ways.
These increases are sparking fears that there will be more in the coming months, that food will become inaccessible, and that the only way people will be able to have food will be to grow their own, a fear stoked by a recent statement by the Kaliningrad governor that he wants to make it easier for people to restart gardening to feed themselves.
But such developments are also raising questions about the reliability of official statistics in the current economic crisis and about the possibility that residents of the Russian enclave may be among the first regions in the Russian Federation to organize and demonstrate against what is happening to them.
And should such demonstrations occur, it is entirely possible that they would lead to and even be led by people like the Donbas militants who claim to be acting in the name of social justice and a strong power rather than by those who might be interested in forming a fourth Baltic republic.
Some in Moscow might view the former as less threatening than the latter given the Kremlin’s obsession with the inviolability of current borders, but in fact, the former would be far more threatening because it would mean that Donbas-type militants would have come into Russia and would be threatening the existing Russian government.
Those reflections are sparked by a discussion of the deteriorating situation in Kaliningrad offered by Rosbalt.ru journalist Yuliya Paramonova, a discussion that is all the more disturbing because many of the things she points to in that Russian enclave are also true in other parts of the Russian Federation.
Price increases over the last year are forcing Kaliningraders to cut back on consumption, Paramonova begins. “According to official statistics, price increases for food over the past year were 22 percent. However, experts offer other statistics,” with some pointing to price increases of a third over the last six months alone and others still more.
These increases reflect both sanctions and the embargo and also the collapse of the ruble exchange rate, she notes. But together they have had a serious impact on the level of consumption with one food store operator says that there has been “a sharp decline” in consumption of no less than ten percent.”
The All-Russian Peoples Front says that price increases have occurred in all trading places in the region, and one of its leaders Andrey Asmolov says that in January 2015 alone, “prices for food jumped by a third,” although that is not something that officials are prepared to acknowledge.
“According to the Kaliningrad statistics office,”Asmolov says, “prices in the oblast rose 6.2 percent. But we consider that the bureaucrats of Rosstat and the organs which are called upon to control the situation are being too clever by half. They are carrying out their monitoring function without leaving their offices.” If they did their jobs, they would see prices rose by 30 percent.
Rosstat is not the only government agency which isn’t telling the truth, he continues. The Federal Anti-Monopoly Service isn’t either. It earlier advised that there wouldn’t be any significant increase in prices for food in January, but in fact prices went up and are continuing to do so, Asmolov says.
Some United Russian politicians like Sverdlovsk’s Ilya Gaffner can suggest that in the face of rising prices and falling incomes, Russians should eat less, but, Paramonova says, “Kaliningrad bureaucrats can’t allow themselves such thoughtlessness [because] Kaliningrad is one of the leaders among Russian regions as far as prices increases for food are concerned.”
The Kaliningrad government has asked for Moscow’s help twice but so far without the results it hopes for, including boosts in supplies of basic food stuffs and price controls. Officials say that they will continue to ask, but it appears they have ever less confidence that the central government will or perhaps can do anything.
Clearly fearful of what may happen in the future, the Kaliningrad governor has directed his subordinates to make it easier for people to gain access to dacha gardens and thus grow their own food, something that might help in the longer term but the announcement of which is anything but reassuring now.
Just how worried some Kaliningraders now are is suggested by the comment of one of them to Paramonova. A certain Vladimir, full name not given, said, “people in complete silence are going among the shelves of stores and don’t know what they should take lest it be too expensive. Soon they will visit stores the way they do museums.”
Vladimir’s words, the Rosbalt.ru journalist says, may be overblown. But she adds, “among consumers are already circulating various ‘apocalyptic’ rumors, including for example about a significant increase in the price of bread” already next month.