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Economy



The state of the Russian economy has always provided the main fuel for protest votes against President Boris Yeltsin and his supporters. Most Russians have experienced a catastrophic decline in living standards over the last decade.

Outside the largest cities - Moscow and St Petersburg - only a small minority has felt the benefits of the market economy. Many believe the country's economic reforms were designed to benefit only corrupt officials and a small circle of super-rich businessmen with links to organised crime. Even among supporters of the free market, there are many who question government policies of the last eight years, and few who doubt the existence of widespread corruption. This could have presented a major obstacle for parties and blocs associated with the government - not only Unity, but also Our Home is Russia, and the Union of Right Wing Forces - but voters' minds appear to have focused almost exclusively on the war in Chechnya.

Russia has begun to recover from last year's rouble devaluation, which had the effect of pricing foreign goods out of the market, and led to a surge in domestic production. The rise in oil prices also left the Russian treasury with more cash than expected to finance its military operations.

Analysts predict that serious economic reforms will be postponed until after the June presidential elections. After the elections they predict that there is unlikely to be a major change of direction, whoever wins, as the state lacks the strength to re-build a regulated economy.