With the Russian economy’s performance relatively sluggish this year compared to its dynamism of 2000-2001, even the Russian president was warning against the assumption that it would be nothing but smooth sailing ahead. During a visit to the offices of the newspaper Izvestia in honor of its 85th birthday, Putin noted in a conversation with the assembled journalists that despite the “positive tendencies” of the last two years, Russia continued to lag behind “the world’s major countries,” and if this were to persist, the state would become “weak and ineffective” and have to resort to “mechanisms that will only worsen our situation.”
Statistics issued just days later gave Putin reasons for both optimism and further brooding. Labor Minister Aleksandr Pochinok reported that real wages and pensions had risen 20 percent last year over 2000. The bad news is that they rose from a very low level: According to Pochinok, wages in 1999, the first year after the 1998 crisis, were only 36 percent of 1997 wages–or two times lower than the minimum subsistence wage–while pensions were 32 percent of the 1997 level. Still, the labor minister said the number of people living below the poverty line last year decreased by 2.4 million, while the average monthly is today $112 a month, which is twice the minimum substance wage. Yet Deputy Prime Minister Valentina Matvienko reported that 700 to 1,500 homeless children were being registered around the country every day.