Nezavisimaya gazeta ran an all-but-apocalyptic prognosis of the food situation in Russia on the eve of winter as its main story today (October 16), citing four “facts” indicating that there will be shortages this winter. The first is that Russia’s grain harvest this year–44 or 45 million tons–was one of the worst in the last forty-five years. The paper noted that while Russian officials claim there will be enough bread, American officials have already announced they are ready to supply Russia with grain. The second fact is that a third of the food consumed in Russia is imported. In big cities, imported food accounts for 50-60 percent of the total consumption. In Moscow the figure is closer to 80 percent. Since the August 17 ruble crash, food imports have fallen 2.6 times. Imports of meat, milk products and sugar have fallen off even more radically. The third fact, according to Nezavisimaya gazeta, is that Russian suppliers cannot meet the food needs of the population. The shortage of grain, hence in all likelihood bread, has been mentioned. In addition to that, domestic producers can fulfill only 60 percent of the demand for meat and 70-80 percent of the demand for milk and milk products. The fourth fact is that while Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov this week announced that the government has put US$600 million into creating a food reserve, he admitted that this will only meet the needs of one-third of the Russian population for two weeks.
According to Nezavisimaya gazeta, Russia this winter will also face energy shortages. All of these misfortunes, the newspaper stated, will coincide with a sharp increase in poverty. The newspaper cited a Central Bank prognosis that the inflation rate will reach 240-290 percent (annualized) by the end of the year. A Central Bank document was quoted as stating: “The growth of inflation in combination with budget problems is the main factor in a sharp drop in living standards of the population comparable in scale with 1992” (Nezavisimaya gazeta, October 16).
Whether the situation will become catastrophic everywhere in Russia remains to be seen. But conditions in some areas, particularly the Russian north, are already alarming. Earlier this week, the governor of the Murmansk region appealed to Scandinavian countries for humanitarian aid, saying that the situation in his region was bordering on the catastrophic (ORT television, October 14).
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