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Moscow Times
February 15, 2005
Russia Seeking Its Place Between Rich and Poor
By Maria Levitov
Staff Writer

In the aftermath of December's devastating tsunami, Russia donated some $30 million to the worldwide relief effort, while leading industrial nations such as Germany, Japan and the United States each contributed more than ten times that amount.

The disparity illustrates Russia's curious role in the post-Cold War world: a giant in terms of geopolitical clout, a dwarf when it comes to funneling funds into looming public health crises -- be they in Southeast Asia or right at home.

"We are not Africa," said Vladimir Mau, head of the Academy of the National Economy, speaking Monday at a roundtable dedicated to Russia and the United Nation's Millennium Development Goals, which were set five years ago as targets to reduce poverty and improve key social indicators worldwide by 2015.

As an industrialized country with an overall life expectancy below Cuba's or even Iraq's, Russia is struggling to find its place in the UN development scheme.

Mau said Russia faces problems uncharacteristic of most other industrialized nations, such as a weak law enforcement system and underdeveloped political institutions.

The country's social problems are reflected in health statistics. Russia has Europe's highest rate of deaths from tuberculosis. And if the current trend in male mortality continues, 43 percent of Russian males who are now 15 years old will die before the age of 60, according to UN research. The corresponding projection for Polish males is 23 percent.

Mau and the other economists at the roundtable generally agreed with the UN's goals in spirit but said the project needed to be tailored to the country's peculiarities.

"It's an effective instrument, but it needs very serious adaptation," said Andrei Markov, a World Bank economist, commenting on the project's action plan, which was presented to UN Secretary General Kofi Annan last month.

It includes a proposal to increase to 0.54 percent of gross national product by 2015 the amount of aid that industrialized countries contribute to developing countries.

Russia has already fulfilled many of the goals, including universal primary schooling, but other problems in education remain.

"Corruption is increasingly [becoming] a structural feature of the education system," said Kalman Mizsei, the UN Development Program's regional director for Europe and the CIS.

Mizsei also cautioned that Russia's income gap is approaching Latin American levels. Poverty ranged from 3.1 percent in Russia's wealthiest regions to 55.6 percent in the poorest regions in 2002, he said.

Nevertheless, Mizsei commended Russia for its role in the fulfillment of UN goals.

Russia's ratification of the Kyoto Protocol on global warming, for example, furthers the millennium goal of "ensuring environmental sustainability," he said.