MOSCOW: Car salesman Alexei Dorofeyev is proud to belong to a club he says is getting less exclusive all the time – Russia s middle class.
At 22, Dorofeyev, director of a Moscow auto dealership, is the new kind of Russian businessman. He deals in consumer goods, not raw materials, and eyes an annual resort holiday in Egypt or Turkey instead of the high-rolling excesses of the post-Soviet tycoons.
Dorofeyev s dealership specializes in unglamorous, but good-value cars such as Kia, Daewoo and Renault – brands that stand out increasingly on streets long associated with the extremes of clapped-out Ladas and monster black Mercedes.
Our clients are middle class people – people who want to stop using the metro, or who have Russian cars and want to trade up, Dorofeyev said.
We sell about 10 cars daily and across the city dealers sell about 1,000 every day.
Fifteen years after the Soviet collapse, Russia remains a country of economic paradoxes.
The government rakes in billions of dollars in oil and gas revenues, but average monthly salaries are only $350.
According to a study published in Moscow last week, just 20-22 percent of Russia s adult urban population is middle class, defined as people earning more than 400 dollars a month.
But the invasion of brightly colored economy cars, crowds thronging French-owned Auchan hypermarkets outside Moscow, and the success of Swedish Ikea furniture stores, demonstrates that mass consumerism is taking root.
Sitting in an office decorated with a kitsch-looking Soviet poster, Dorofeyev said the boom in foreign car ownership was down to growing availability of cheap models and a surge in consumer financing.
Even if you are earning just $600 a month, it s realistic to buy a decent car on credit, he said. Two years ago, 60 percent of clients paid in cash and 40 percent on credit, he said, while today the figures have been reversed, reflecting the proliferation of financing schemes.
Shopping for smaller items has also exploded, fuelled by an avalanche of television and print advertising and impressive economic growth rates during President Vladimir Putin s six years in the Kremlin.
At a newly opened Nike sports clothing store in central Moscow, where jackets sell for around $200 and shoes for $150, shop assistant Pavel Filkin, 19, said clients were often young people who spent their extra money on looking fashionable.
People try to get ahead now. They see there are possibilities for the future. The only thing we don t know is what will happen after Putin leaves. He managed to get things pretty much sorted out, Filkin said.
With a population of almost 11 million and salaries treble those in this vast country s provinces, Moscow is well ahead of the curve. Nationwide the middle class phenomenon is much feebler.
The survey released last week by the Sociology Institute of Russia s Academy of Sciences and German foundation Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, reported that the middle class has actually shrunk slightly since 2003, when 25 percent of the population qualified.
The study, which questioned 1,750 Russians in October last year, also discovered that most of this middle class is made up of state employees rather than entrepreneurs or managers.
Whatever the reality, though, some 60 percent of Russians told the survey they considered themselves middle class – double the number in 1999. Apparently, that most middle class of characteristics – aspiration – is thriving.