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Putin reports on Russia’s successes We fact-checked his words

Meduza
14:35, 2 december 2016

Photo: Natalia Kolesnikova / AFP / Scanpix / LETA

Vladimir Putin made his annual address to Russia's Federal Assembly yesterday. As always, he spoke a lot about the country’s various successes and backed his claims up with statistics. Meduza fact-checked and commented on the most dubious fragments of the President’s speech.

Total fertility rate

Putin's Quote:

Demographers have a concept of have a concept called "total fertility rate." In 2013, it amounted to 1.7 [children per woman] in Russia, that is higher than that of most European countries. For example, say, in Portugal, [the rate was] 1.2, in Spain and Greece [it was] 1.3, in Austria, Germany, [and] Italy [it was] 1.4, and in the Czech Republic [it was] 1.5. This data is for 2013. The 2015 total fertility rate in Russia will be even greater, by just a little bit, but greater still at 1.78.

Fact check:

Putin did not explain what the "total fertility rate" was exactly, and this is quite important. Usually this term is interpreted as the average number of children that would be born to a woman in her life. But experts have criticized the use of this statistic for many reasons, including its simplified definition. There is even a scientific paper titled "The total fertility rate gives politicians misleading signals: should we not abandon the use of this index?".

In and of itself, the data presented by the president is true. However, it is not so clear why Vladimir Putin chose to use two-year-old figures, as opposed to more current ones (which are not too different). And why did he use the future tense to reference to Russia's total fertility rate for 2015 when this data has already been published.

Growth of salaries

Putin's quote:

We increase professionals' salaries and improve their working conditions, because the social sector must attract qualified [and] talented young people.

Fact check:

Wages in the social sector are not as good as we would like for them to be. The medical field is just one example. Russia's statistics services Rosstat really did record a growth in Russia's average wage, but experts point out that these figures have been achieved through various manipulations. For example, the average salary is calculated without taking into account the number of contracts that an employee has or the wages of people working on part-time contracts. In addition, many institutions have been reducing the number of medical staff in order to make room for salary increases.

Infant mortality

Putin's quote:

Today, our doctors save infants in the most difficult cases ... According to these figures, we [find ourselves amongst] the world's most advanced countries. As a result, even in 2015, when the infant mortality rate in Russia amounted to 6.5 per thousand births, the figure for Europe was 6.6 [per thousand births], according to the World Health Organization ... In the first 10 months of 2016, Russia figure was 5.9 [per thousand births].

Fact check:

Indeed, Russia's infant mortality rate is better than that of Europe. Though it is not very evident where exactly Putin got his statistics on Europe. On the World Health Organization's website, they are a little bit different (in Russia's favour.)

But in any case, this victory does not indicate that Russia is "amongst the world's most advanced countries." According to the CIA World Factbook, Russia was 64th in the world's rankings on infant mortality in 2015. The European Union, specifically, has an infant mortality rate that is lower than that of Russia: 3.7 (according to Eurostat in 2014) against Putin's 6.5 (Rosstat in 2015). If we take individual European countries, their infant mortality rate is even lower. Monaco, Iceland, Norway, Finland, Sweden, Czech Republic, Spain, France, Italy, Luxembourg, Austria, Belgium, Germany, The Netherlands, Switzerland, Ireland, Estonia, Lithuania, Slovenia, Denmark, and even Belarus, amongst others.

Financial reserves

Putin's quote:

We have ensured macroeconomic stability, so it is very important to maintain financial reserves. The Central Bank's reserved have not decreased, and have even grown. Our reserves were at $368.39 billion on January 1, 2016; now they are at $389.4 billion, almost $400 billion. Here, too, we see positive dynamics.

Fact check:

Yes, the reserves have actually grown (mainly due to the fact that Russia's Central Bank is buying a lot of gold). Meanwhile, the National Welfare Fund is quickly being spent. In the appendix to the draft on the budget 2017, it is indicated that the fund's reserves will be spend entire by the start of 2018 and that the National Welfare Fund will be reduced from 4.7 trillion rubles to three trillion by the end of 2019.