Is Russia a third world country?

5 workers - 1 working 4 watching - a common site in Moscow

5 workers – 1 working 4 watching – a common sight in Moscow

Both of us grew up during the cold war, and the Soviet Union was the enemy with 10,000+ nuclear weapons and thousands of tanks stationed in East Germany. The Soviet Union was a strong powerful country.

Russia, which is 75% of the former Soviet Union, seems a much poorer country. Russia’s GDP per capita is about a third of Australia’s. Russia’s total GDP is about 15% to 33% bigger than Australia’s but for 143 million people versus Australia’s 21 million. I suspect it will not be more than 5 to 10 years before Australia’s GDP exceeds Russia.

We see so much inefficiency here. Unemployment is meant to be similar to Australia’s, around 6%, but there are so many people employed in meaningless jobs. We went to a supermarket today (not a very big one) with not one, but TWO security guards. Every supermarket has a security guard, and sometimes someone watching video surveillance full-time as well. We pass a shop selling kitchen goods in the mall up the road which has two shop assistants and the shop is the size of a large walk-in robe. Next door there is a jewellery shop with four shop assistants, and no customers most of the time. There are shopping areas about 750 metres away from us that are full of tiny little stores (3 metres by 2 metres) that sell hardware, fruit and veg and similar. There must be 50 stalls, and again almost never any customers. There is a market next door with a couple of dozen little stalls selling fruit and veg, all similar, and most of the time with no customers. There are supermarkets everywhere, there must be ten supermarkets  of various sizes within 1 km of our apartment.

There are tiny little shops in many subway underpasses. Really tiny, 2 metres long by a metre deep, selling everything from shoes to taps. Shopkeepers eking out a living.

There are police on every metro station (usually at least 3) plus people monitoring video surveillance.  At the train stations and other places there are many examples of security theatre.  At Saint Petersburg station there were body metal detectors that people had to walk through. Of course the metal detector went off all the time, because ordinarily people are carrying metal all the time (coins and phones etc). The guards did nothing when the alarms went off, and to make it more ridiculous Saint Petersburg station had several entrances that you could go through without going through any detectors. We went through a metal detector at an entrance to a shopping centre yesterday, and as usual the metal detector beeped, but the guard did nothing.

At the main shopping area near us some workman have been replacing some paving with new paving. This has been going on since before we got here on Saturday. It is so pathetically slow. I am sure an Australian paving crew would have had it all done in 3 days, but this drags on so slowly, with lots of workers standing around and hardly anyone working.

It rained heavily yesterday (and the day before), a tropical-like downpour that lasted maybe 15 minutes. The roads flooded, but because there is almost no drainage, the water just sits in deep pools on the road, until it evaporates. Thefootpaths are bitumen, but so uneven and not built with a slope so the water drains, and the footpaths are covered with deep pools of water as well.

Russia just seems so third world in some respects. It seems to have more in common in our experience with Vietnam – a third world country – than a poor European country like Portugal. This is our experience in Moscow, the rich capital where people are so much wealthier. It’s going to be interesting in the poor parts of Russia.




5 thoughts on “Is Russia a third world country?

  1. People nothing seems to have changed going back in time when we went in 1980 it was like going back in time they cutting paddocks by hand digging trenches by hand these people put the first man into space you have to wonder how as I saw it nothing had a sense of purpose when you see the lovely old places of 1800s you wonder how things are done so poorly today we as Australians have a zest for doing things right and improving on what we have done it will be interesting to see how things are on the other side of Russia by what we saw on our drive through the USSR it will get worse 44 years it was behind the Iron Curtain those country’s also stood still I look forward to your next post

    • You’re right, Ron. Those 18th & 19th century buildings are works of art, but now …. it’s like there’s a gap in their knowledge database or something. I’m really sorry that we haven’t taken a photo a day of the paving outside the shopping centre. My brother Phil would be horrified! On Monday morning we watched them spread something over the sand base, and by Tuesday morning it was covered in footprints and cigarette butts. And I’m pretty sure we’ve watched workmen dig holes and then fill them in again.

  2. Very interesting Jude . I wonder if business gets some sort of tax deduction for employng extra workers , but then some of them are government employees ! Totally mystifying .

    • The country seems to be at the same economic stage as Vietnam when we were there in 2001, and China when we were there in 2006. Heaps of retail, lots of advertising for ‘things’, not much for ‘services’ like banking, financial products, stuff like that.
      There’s plenty of tourism here, most of it local (ie, Russians travelling within their own country), but we have also seen large organised groups of Asian tourists.

  3. Memories of Russia 1980

    Judy emailed us, wondering if we would like to reminisce on our trip to Russia in 1980, comparing it to their trip 2013.

    So here goes.
    We were in the UK to visit the relations, and had arranged a trip through Europe, called Russia, Poland and the Northern Capitals, cost $1,220 each, included dinner and breakfast along the way.

    In July 1980 we left London for Harwich and embarked on the D.F.D.S. SEAWAYS for Esbjerg in Denmark, day two and three Copenhagen, and day four embarked on a ferry to Sweden, reaching the capital Stockholm in time for dinner. Day five spent sightseeing in Stockholm. Later that day we were driven to Norrtalje for the overnight crossing to Finland. Sightseeing in Helsinki our sixth day where we toured the bustling capital.

    Then eastward to Russia:

    First have to explain the times, we were arriving in Russia just before the 1980 Russian Olympics, several nations had banned athletes from attending the Olympics due to Russia invading Afghanistan. Australia did not send a full team to the games. Americans did not send a team.
    We arrived at the border of Russia to overbearing custom people, there was only 18 of us in the coach (which could hold 44) many had cancelled because of the Russian situation.
    They kept us in customs for four hours, went through everyone’s personal luggage, I had heated curlers, they took them apart, all books were searched through methodically. Small dogs were let loose in the coach; rods were put through the bodywork. Later they let us go.
    Next Leningrad, called St Petersburg, where we were taken by coach sightseeing and then to the Piskaryovskoye Memorial Cemetery, a cemetery for 500,000 people. These people died during the siege of Leningrad, by the German army during World War 11. We walked down past this vast cemetery, to the monument where we found many Russians stood crying. A heart stopping moment to see such sorrow thirty six years after the siege ended.
    In the evening we were taken to a performance of ballet at the spectacular Kirov Theatre.

    Day nine we were driven to Novorod where we first learnt you could only shop in Berioska shops, special shops for tourists. Shops in Russia at that time were not good; we see many queues outside premises, which to us did not have much displayed.
    Hotels were unique as well. On every floor there were security, a lift in the Novgorod hotel could not be installed because the area left for it was not correct shape. Also food, we were served chicken which was so tough you couldn’t eat it. And we were served with caviar one time, which was a memorable moment.
    In Novgorod we see young children led along holding on to a long rope, we see older children guarding the tomb of the unknown warrior, which apparently they performed this duty every day.
    We learnt about another custom, brides on their wedding day they came to the memorial to honour the dead.
    In the streets woman swept the roads with birch twig brooms, they were older woman and wore aprons and scarves.
    In Russia there was not much traffic, mostly looked like government cars, few private. People did not speak to you; one place a man spoke in English but quickly moved away when security came into view. Not a happy country.

    We continued on to Moscow where we did the usual sightseeing Red Square, huge queue for Lenin Mausoleum, we did not go in. The Kremlin and St Basil Cathedral, Tretyakov and Pushkin art galleries and the amazing Pavilion of Scientific Achievement.
    The special thing we did in Moscow was to visit the Moscow State Circus in their permanent home, I would say circuses do not come at the top of my list to go and see, but, the Moscow State Circus, what can you say, it was amazing, never seen anything like since.

    The journey through Russia continues past huge housing estates, high rise, ugly places, no landscaping.
    We see paddocks were people lined up in a long row were cutting corn with scythes.
    Saw woman washing clothes in creeks.
    We stopped to get diesel on our way to Minsk, 150 litres the cost two cartons of cigarettes, the driver had them under his seat.
    During our long travels through Russia we came across many block houses with armed guards.

    So you can see how 1980 behind the iron curtain was different compared to 2013.
    When we were leaving Russia we had to give roubles we had back.

    Into Warsaw Poland, we learnt quickly how they all hated the Russian people.
    Still behind that Wall, taken to a hotel in East Germany, built by the Swiss and run by them, the best hotel we had been in.

    Taken around to see the wall, Brandenburg Gate and the gigantic Soviet memorial.
    Next day out of Russian hands through Check Point Charlie, with more security checks underneath the coach they used mirrors. Into West Berlin, like another world entirely, shops packed with goods, and happy people.

    Day nineteen moved on from Amsterdam to London.

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