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Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Russia's Collapse in 5 Stats

After a stunning currency collapse, Russia is now fully in the grips of an economic crisis. How deep is the chaos? Here are five stats that put Russia’s woes in context.

Ruble Riot

Russia’s currency entered free fall this week, hitting a record low of 80 rubles to the dollar today before recovering slightly. The ruble has lost over half its value this year, making it the worst-performing currency among the 170 tracked by Bloomberg. Passed on the way down: the Ukranian hryvnia.

Recession Looming

Russia's economy has been slowing for some time, and is now poised to fall into recession. In early December, Russia's economy ministry was forced to revise its estimate of 1.2 percent growth for 2015 down to a 0.8 percent contraction. Since then, oil—which makes up 50 percent of government revenue—has continued to slide, falling below $60 this week. Russia's central bank warns of a contraction of 4.7 percent in 2015 if oil prices stay at that level on average.

Surging Borrowing Costs

The economic chaos is making it significantly more expensive for Moscow to borrow money. Dollar-denominated bond yields rose above 7.5 percent, meaning the cost of international borrowing for Russia is now higher than Rwanda, the Ivory Coast and Kenya, according to the FT. Russia's 10-year local bond yield, the interest rate the government has to pay to borrow, jumped more than 2 percent to 15.36 percent.

Brain Drain

In addition to money, Russia is bleeding talent, as ordinary Russians vote with their feet. In the first eight months of this year, Bloomberg reports, more than 200,000 people left Russia—more than any full year since Vladimir Putin took control.

Capital Flight

Russia is watching money head for the exits too. Capital outflows for 2014 are estimated at $134 billion, according to the Financial Times. 2015 is likely to see a similar exodus, with the Central Bank yesterday forecasting $120 billion in departing capital.

What Does It Mean?

So far, economic chaos hasn't dented the popularity of Russian's president. Putin won “man of the year” this week for the 15th year running in a Russian poll. His aggressive foreign policy has only strengthened his domestic political standing. Russia's currency collapse is bad news for Russians, but for the rest of the world, the problem is more geopolitical than economic.

Ian Bremmer is president of Eurasia Group and global research professor at New York University. You can follow him on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.

Sanctions and low oil prices are responsible for this crisis. The question is, how will Mr. Putin respond to the intense pressure from the west and Saudi Arabia? I have no idea, but whatever he does, it will probably be unexpected.

Meanwhile, Mr. Putin still has his admirers