Analysis: Russia's wealth gap wounds Putin

Tue Dec 20, 2011 11:20am EST
 
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By Lidia Kelly and Maya Dyakina

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Konstantin owns apartments in Moscow and London, drives a $150,000 Mercedes-Benz car and buys his groceries at the expensive Azbuka Vkusa store.

At the age of 44 he is part of Russia's new generation of rich bankers, but is too cautious to let his full name be published in a country where the wealth gap generates anger and resentment.

Pensioner Lyudmila Rybakova can only dream of such a lifestyle. She has never even been to Azbuka Vkusa and makes ends meet by selling strings of dried mushrooms to supplement her 8,000 ruble ($250) monthly pension.

"With my pension? What would I buy there? It's not for people like me. It's for the rich, it's just for the rich."

The gap between rich and poor in Russia is a growing problem for Prime Minister Vladimir Putin as he prepares to return to the presidency in an election next March.

During his 12-year rule, as president and then prime minister, Russians have broadly speaking become wealthier than they were in the chaotic years following the collapse of the Soviet Union. But the citizen of Putin's Russia can easily lose even a modest sense of well being when confronted with the sometimes flamboyant ostentation of the rich.

In Soviet times privilege was often a well guarded secret.

Many people cited the wealth gap in ditching Putin's ruling party in a December 4 election that cut its majority in parliament.   Continued...

 
<p>A woman begs for money during heavy snowfall in central Moscow, December 21, 2010. REUTERS/Nikolay Korchekov</p>