Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Life on the edge

If you're not already aware (ie if you don't read the news ever), the ruble and the Russian economy are going through tough times - the word "crisis" has accurately been used to describe the situation.  To give a brief summary, the ruble is at its lowest rate against the dollar in its history, inflation is rising in Russia, companies are unable to pay back their foreign debt (held largely in dollars), and it's only getting worse.

Why? Partially because of Western sanctions against Russia for its actions in the Ukraine.  Another significant cause is the huge drop in oil prices - while this seems like a good thing because it results in cheaper gas prices for those of you back in the States, it's terrible for oil exporting countries, most of whom rely on the price of crude oil being somewhere around $100 a barrel (to give a rough average) to break even.  It's now fallen to around $60 a barrel and shows no immediate signs of rising.  

What does this mean in real terms, for people living in Russia? Because of inflation, it means that the prices of everything from food to medicines to clothing and electronics have gone up.  To give a real example, I bought medication today for 766 rubles that only 28 days ago cost 750.  Grocery bills are quietly going up 50, 100, 150 rubles more than you expect based on what you're used to paying.  

Because of sanctions, a lot of food items are simply not available.  The most noticable for me is imported cheese, as I find Russian produced cheeses to be fairly bland and plastic-y, and therefore lived on English cheddar and Italian mozzarella. Other items have gone the same route and will continue to do so as existing stock is sold.  

Because of the combined effects, going on vacation to either the US or Europe is simply no longer an option for many people, as the exchange rate vastly decreases their purchasing power.  When I first arrived in Russia two and a half years ago, the rate was around 30 rubles to the dollar; now it's around 70.  Luckily I planned my New Year's trip to Bishkek, so it won't be as bad.

While people are certainly worried, some are also finding some humor in the current situation

Unfortunately, things aren't slated to get better any time soon, but for the time being there's not much else to do besides sit, watch, and hope for the best.  

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