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Russian Middle Class Wants to Forge Its Own Way, Says No to Western-Style Development

73 percent of Russians described as 'middle class' support an independent economic development path for Russia

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Originally Appeared at German Economic News. Translated from the German by Kay Olms

Researchers have found out that Russia's new middle class will not become the core of any opposition against president Putin. To the contrary, the active part of Russian society is losing its faith in Western models and wants to go its own Russian way.

Russia's new middle class is performing much better in the economic crisis than expected. As a sociological study from of the Academy of Sciences has shown, they continue to suffer from falling income levels, job losses, and cuts to welfare benefits. However, people have either tightened their belts, are living from their savings, or have sought multiple jobs. The middle class isn't shrinking.

In cooperation with the SPD-affiliated "Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung", the Institute of Sociology of the Russian Academy of Sciences has been conducting research on reforms and their effects on the middle class in Russia since 2003. According to the German Press Agency, the researcher Natalia Tichonowa was quoted during the presentation of the study in Moscow as saying, "the middle class understands that these are temporary difficulties." Therefore no protest has formed against the leadership of President Vladimir Putin. However, there is the danger of social decline for the economic midterm, once the savings are used up.

Since the conflict with the West started in 2014, after sanctions and counter-sanctions, the number of those who want Russia to follow a style of development patterned after the West has decreased. Within one year, and up until the year 2015, there was a 5-point reduction within a measurement of 27 percent.

Now 73 percent of the middle class supports Russia going its 'own way', as pursued by the Kremlin. Tichonowa said there is a huge upswing in patriotism in Moscow, where the dislocations within the labor market are the largest. According to the study, the amount of income available to each member of a middle class family shrank by 1,400 rubles. That reduces the amount of income to 22.600 rubles (280 euros) per month. According to the economics ministry, real income declined in Russia by 3.5 percent. Russians are expected to have another 3.7 percent less in their wallet in 2016. The Russian GDP also decreased by 3.9 percent in 2015.

Unlike the financial crisis in 2009, the proportion of the Russian population that constitutes the middle class has remained steady throughout the new crisis. It still holds at about 44 percent, said the researcher Mikhail Gorshkov. Neither in Tsarist nor Soviet times had there been a middle class made up of self-employed and qualified workers in Russia. This group rose during the oil boom in Putin's first term in the years beginning in 2000. Experts had already expected that this new middle class would some day demand more political representation and demand to forge their own way.

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