LIVE UPDATES: Russia is spending more on defense than education and making cuts to health care, raising concerns about the health and welfare of the population.
Welcome to our column, Russia Update, where we will be closely following day-to-day developments in Russia, including the Russian government’s foreign and domestic policies.
The previous issue is here.
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In the last two years, Russia has faced both the fall of the value of the ruble from the drop in oil prices and the effects of Western sanctions over its war on Ukraine. This period of economic crisis has been exacerbated by budget cuts in the area of health, welfare and education and increases in defense as Russia launched a bombing campaign in Syria, absorbed the cost of annexing the Crimea, and continued to back offensives by the separatists in the Donbass.
The Ministry of Finance spends more on education than defense, Tatyana Nesterenko, first deputy minister of finance claimed today at a meeting of the State Duma’s Budget Committee, RBC reported.
She said Russia spent 3 trillion rubles ($48 billion) on education, the largest expense line in the state budget, and defense was the second largest.
But as RBC pointed out, she didn’t specify what time period she had in mind, as Finance Ministry data indicate that in 2016, expenditures throughout the entire budget are higher for defense than education, although in 2017, more spending will be made on education.
The budget submitted to the State Duma this week with amendments has 3.9 trillion rubles ($62 billion) (23.7% of the budget) allocated for defense, and 558 billion rubles ($8.9 billion) (3.4%) of the budget for education, says RBC.
In 2017, the government plans to reduce the percentage of defense expenditures to 17.6% and increase the percentage of funding for education to 3.5%. Of course, this is the plan, and the reality in a year could be something different.
But taking into account regional budgets, expenditures for education in 2017 will be higher than defense: about 3.1 trillion rubles ($49.6 billion) versus 2.9 trillion rubles ($41.6 billion). In 2018-2019, the gap in favor of education will increase. (RBC has not indicated what part of defense and security budgets regional governments take on.)
In Orel region, one of the most ethnically Russian regions of the country, health care has collapsed over the last 25 years. In 1990, there were 12,700 hospital beds for rural residents; in 2000, there were 10,500; now there are only 7500. The number of polyclinics has fallen over the same period from 133 to 85 and the number of nurses by 13 percent.As a result, the Nezavisimaya gazeta journalist reports, “if 25 years ago, mortality in the region stood at 13 deaths per 1,000 residents; in 2015, the rate stood at 16.4 per 1,000, an increase of 26.4 percent.” The situation in Pskov Region is even worse, and as a result, life expectancies there are five years less than for Russia as a whole.
Clinics charge less than cost for services; a basic blood analysis costs 300 rubles ($4.80), but clinics only collect from 70 to 103 rubles for it ($1.16 to $1.65) , then have to make up their revenue by increasing the number of patients.
As Paul Goble writes, citing the Russian press, with the decrease and deterioration of medicines, some doctors are now telling their patients to go to church and light a candle when they are sick.
— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick