In January 2023, Russians received their first utility bills at new rates. Theoretically, they should not have increased by more than 9% (the maximum limit for a one-time increase).
In fact, in many subjects of the federation, this figure was exceeded, in some – very significantly. This caused an adverse reaction from the Russians and led to the first manifestations of the mass civic activity of the population over the past year. In addition to indignation in social networks and on Internet forums (relevant publications on local media sites collect hundreds of comments), in some regions, people began collecting signatures on the petitions asking for a revision of tariffs (thousands of signatures were collected in a fairly short time). At the same time, as of now, the protests do not have a systemic nature, and the demands of the dissatisfied people do not go beyond the simple “recalculation of the payrolls.” Citizens present their main claims to local authorities, trying to “find justice” against those through complaints to the President or heads of law enforcement agencies. In some cases, their mass organizing is the fruit of the activity of a political force (local cells of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation). In the medium term, it is quite possible to “expand” the circle of those whose work will express discontent – in particular, the central government and parliament.
In any case, the “tariff” issue in the coming months will remain one of the main factors intensifying public discontent (in light of the growth of other socio-economic issues) and protest activity throughout the country. It is also obvious that it will become one of the most important topics of the election campaigns for the election of heads of 21 subjects of the federation and the election of the legislative (representative) bodies of state power in 16 constituent entities of the Russian Federation (all voting must take place on September 10, 2023).
As a rule, utility payments in the Russian Federation were reviewed once a year – in July. However, in 2022, the increase in utility tariffs was implemented twice (additionally – in December). As a result, according to Rosstat, the cost of utilities from December 2021 to December 2022 increased by 13.46%. Whereas a year earlier, growth was recorded at 3.55%.
Of all utilities, wastewater disposal has risen in price the most over the past year. In December 2022, the cost of wastewater disposal was, on average, nationwide higher than in December 2021 by 15.37%. The second place is held by heating prices, which have risen by 13.91%. This is followed by hot (growth of 13.87%) and cold (13.76%) water. Electricity tariffs rose by 13.48%. Gas prices went up the least – by only 11.46%.
A significant part of consumers had significant arrears in payments even before the increase in tariffs. According to Russia’s government, the total debt for utilities in the country has reached 1.4 trillion rubles (debts of both citizens and enterprises). Data on the debts of household consumers are available only as of the first quarter of 2022. Then they amounted to 804.5 billion rubles more (7.6% or 56.6 billion rubles) than was recorded in the same period of 2021.
In this case, the central government has significant room for “maneuver”, shifting the responsibility for the fact that tariffs are growing above the promised indicators to the local authorities. According to the “Housing Code” (Article 157.1), limit indices are approved in agreement with the representative bodies of municipalities. Regional authorities can adjust the limit value in a particular municipality. Then the tariffs for some utilities in some localities may be higher than the limit index. The only requirement is that the regional average does not exceed the approved 9%.
In most cases, at least formally, it is possible to “fit” into this indicator. There is information in the media and social networks that the “threshold” is significantly exceeded only in 15-17 regions (at least this is the situation for January 2023 (as per payments for December), payments for the next winter months will be indicative).
There will likely be more of such regions since several “tricks” are already being used on the ground to submit “combed” statistics, allegedly indicating that the increases were insignificant. For example, not increasing tariffs for some services but “focusing” on the rise of others. The dissatisfied citizens are trying to call for the manifestation of civic consciousness in the “difficult international situation and sanctions” (Khabarovsk Territory, Ulyanovsk Region).
No “typical model” of response to emerging discontent can be traced. On the one hand, there are examples when the authorities act “preemptively” and promise not to raise tariffs (such as in the Orlov region, and a few other regions will probably do the same, the heads of which will be re-elected on September 10, 2023). On the other hand, authorities consistently prove that all increases are justified and legal (Kaliningrad Region, Krasnoyarsk Territory). Similarly – and regarding the coordination of rallies or pickets. In the Novosibirsk Region, local authorities “gave the go-ahead” to hold protests against the increase in housing and communal services tariffs. At the same time, in the capital of Bashkortostan, Ufa, citizens were forbidden to do it, formally referring to the “difficult epidemiological situation.”
In the Republic of Tatarstan, a plot is being played out when local authorities are forced to conduct demonstrative “explanatory work” (“listen and carefully respond to all complaints“). This happens because, in this particular case, the “tariff” topic is clearly used by the center as an element of latent pressure on the regional elites.
The same format for filing petitions and complaints is also heterogeneous. Some appeals are petitions registered on the Change.org website (their legal status and why the authorities should generally respond to them are not clear). It should be noted that similar petitions were registered earlier (in 2019-2021) and, as a rule, did not gain a convincing number of signatures. It is also unknown whether there were examples when the authorities were forced to respond to such a form of appeal from citizens.
Others are direct appeals to certain authorities (with “signature lists” and an expression of support attached to them). In some cases, there are complaints from individual citizens (appeals to the reception rooms of the President, the Prime Minister, the relevant ministry, the Prosecutor General’s Office, etc.), or public organizations such as the Consumer Protection Unions.
An important nuance is that this topic is one of the few where the “free speech” for Russians remains. Discussions in the comments under publications in the Internet media, on forums, and on social networks collect many comments, including criticism of the authorities (usually local ones).
Examples of public reaction and the reaction of local authorities to tariff increases in the regions
- Residents of the Altai Territory have collected more than 3,000 signatures against the growth of housing and communal services. The collection of signatures took place during the New Year holidays in Barnaul, Biysk, Rubtsovsk, Novoaltaisk, Belokurikha, and Zarinsk. Signatures are planned to be sent to the Prime Minister of the Russian Federation, Mikhail Mishustin.
- In the Altai Territory, a petition against the increase in tariffs for housing and communal services and the cost of coal and firewood has already been signed by 4,000 people, reported region’s State Duma deputy from the Communist Party, Maria Prusakova, in her address to Mishustin. Payments for some utilities increased by 30-35% in the region.
- Biysk representatives of the Communist Party held a picket against the increase in utility tariffs. The participants of the street action demanded to freeze the growth of payments and deal with the thermal power companies from the SGC, because of which the amounts in the receipts of the townspeople could grow more noticeably than in other municipalities. Starting December 1, utility tariffs in Biysk will increase by 11.4%, which is significantly higher than the average for the Altai region, excluding Barnaul.
- “Second Mortgage!” : Barnaul residents “exchange” receipts and emotions after an unprecedented increase in tariffs.
- Residents of Krasnoyarsk and Kansk have already left more than 8,000 signatures against the increase in heating tariffs. The petition text notes that over the year, the tariffs were raised by more than 18%, exceeding the allowable indexation level by 5%. Regional authorities explain this because large-scale investment projects in heating services have been launched in the region.
- “We will take loans for heating”: Krasnoyarsk residents have created a petition against high prices for a communal apartment. In the comments to publications on local websites, proposals are made regarding the autonomy of regional energy supply companies from the federal system (“We need to do a little differently, create a petition for the withdrawal of heating and electricity supply of Khakassia and Tyva regions from their common energy system, for independent formation of tariffs. Then write and sign directly by the cities about the removal from his post of the well-known leader of the region due to a conflict of interest in the performance of official duties. The third petition and the population’s demand should be to gasify the region”).
- Residents of Krasnoyarsk created a petition against rising prices for housing and communal services. According to the authors, the amounts in the receipts that started to come after the last indexation do not stand up to scrutiny and sometimes exceed the limit indices by several times. You can sign the petition here: https://www.change.org/p/no-predatory-fare
- More than 50,000 residents of Krasnoyarsk signed a petition against the increase in housing and communal services tariffs.
- The administration and deputies of Sharypovo demand clarification regarding the increase in the tariff for thermal energy by 20% at once from December 1, 2022, which occurred without taking their opinion into account.
- The increase in tariffs for heat in the Krasnoyarsk region was recognized as legal. The Krasnoyarsk region’s construction supervision and housing control services conducted an audit of the cost of heating in the region. The reason was numerous complaints from the population about a significant increase in payments in receipts for November and December 2022.
Republic of Tatarstan
- Residents of Naberezhnye Chelny created a petition due to rising prices for utilities. According to the author of the appeal, Kristina Batyreva, the service cost has increased by 30-40% instead of the promised 9%.
- Almost 10,000 people from Tatarstan supported the petition against rising prices for utility bills. The appeal appeared on a special Internet resource two weeks ago.
- The President of Tatarstan has instructed to explain to the population the reasons for the increase in payments for “communal”. “Residents of the republic have already begun to receive receipts for December at the new tariffs. The Ministry of Construction of the Republic of Tatarstan, heads of district administrations, and heads of relevant organizations should ensure the correctness of charges. Organize an audit of all incoming complaints and appeals. It is important to explain to the population the reasons for the increase in payments, as well as to talk about the social support measures in the republic,” the press service of the President of the Republic of Tatarstan quotes.
l The leader of the “Communists of Russia” in Naberezhnye Chelny, Tatiana Guryeva, explained how to sign an appeal against tariff increases. Signature lists will be sent to the President of the Russian Federation, Vladimir Putin, the President of Tatarstan, Rustam Minnikhanov, the Government of the Russian Federation, State Duma Deputy Alfiya Kogogina, the State Tariff Committee of the Republic of Tatarstan, and the Federal Antimonopoly Service of Russia. The message will also be received by the Mayor of Chelny, Nail Magdeev, and the city manager, Farid Salakhov.
- “Are they heating us with mahogany?”: In the new year, Kazan residents howled from wild bills for utility charges.
l A resident of Tyumen, Alexei Kamenskikh, created a petition against the increase in tariffs for housing and communal services. “From July 1, 2022, for all municipalities of the Tyumen region, the growth of the total utility bill is set at 3.4%, for the city of Tyumen – at the level of 14.9%. We demand to understand the situation with the unjustified increase in tariffs,” the petition reads. The document was sent to the head of the Federal Antimonopoly Service of Russia, Maksim Shatolsky, the Prosecutor General of the Russian Federation, Igor Krasnov, the head of the department for working with citizens of the Tyumen Regional Duma, Zalia Biktimerova, and the director of the tariff and pricing policy department, Evgeny Kartashkov.
l The comments on publications on local websites negatively assess the activity of residents of the region who do not want to defend their rights (“Look who is next to you, someone is trying to protest, and the overwhelming majority is silent, what kind of petition is it if so far only 773 people from a city of almost a million people have signed it. Who are you people, and why do you give a damn about the fact that you are robbed and do everything on behalf of your account, so they can live gloriously off it!!!;;;???“)
l Residents of Tyumen posted a petition on the website change.org demanding to cancel the indexation of tariffs for housing and communal services in the regional capital in the amount of 14.9%. The authors of the petition believe that this increase in tariffs is illegitimate. The document was sent to the head of the Federal Antimonopoly Service of Russia, Maksim Shatolsky, the executive committee of the All-Russian Popular Front, as well as the head of the department for working with citizens of the Tyumen Regional Duma, Zalia Biktimerova, and the director of the tariff and pricing policy department, Evgeny Kartashkov.
l Residents of Tyumen are shocked by the increase in prices for housing and communal services. “Does everyone have 3,000 rubles for heating? In general, the bill for an apartment is getting higher and higher, and it’s okay if it would be by only 10-15%, but in this case, it is by 80%. This is not yet a receipt for electricity; an average of 2,000 [rubles]comes out only from it,” Tyumen residents are asking on social networks.
- In the new receipts of St. Petersburg residents, heating has risen significantly in price. In Smolny, it has been explained why: “The tariff for thermal energy in the Northern capital has changed by 8.4% since December 1, 2022. In addition, due to a significant decrease in the average monthly outdoor temperature in December compared to November <…> more heat energy was required to heat apartment buildings. The simultaneous change in the tariff and the increase in the volume of heat consumption affected the heating fee, which increased by more than 8.4%.
- “Conning us like dummies”: St. Petersburg residents will address the prosecutor’s office due to a two-fold increase in heat tariffs. In December, the cost of payment for housing and communal services was indexed from 8.2% to 9.4%. However, the very first receipts revealed controversial points in Smolny’s statements. “+33% – 7,800 [rubles] turned into 10,300, heating 5,000 into 7,200, three-room flat, 80 square meters,” a St. Petersburg resident writes in the comments of the Fontanka publication. Other citizens agree with her, noting a significant increase in heating tariffs by up to 100%.
l According to the first payments in 2023, utility tariffs in the Khabarovsk region increased by 26 percent.
- According to local authorities, an American trace is why utility bills have risen sharply for Khabarovsk residents: “The Khabarovsk Territory was supplied with gas from the Sakhalin-1 project, which was operated by the American corporation ExxonMobil since 2005, and prices were calculated in US dollars. The region was the only one in Russia that was supplied with blue fuel according to such a scheme. After the corporation withdrew from the project last year, gas began to be supplied from the Sakhalin-2 project. One of the main shareholders – Shell – also left it, but Gazprom has continued the extraction of resources. The Khabarovsk region carried out systematic work with the government of the Russian Federation on the issues of compensation from the federal budget for lost revenues from the increase in the cost of natural gas purchased from the Sakhalin-1 project. According to the decision of the Fifth Court of Appeal, the economically justified cost of this resource for 2021 should be taken into account in the tariff regulation for 2023. The increase in tariffs for this service in the amount of 15 percent is caused by the execution of decisions of judicial and pre-trial disputes in terms of accounting for fuel costs for economically justified levels.
- Up to 10,000 rubles: Kaliningrad residents complain about expensive heat, but the authorities consider the fee justified.
- “Where is this 9% increase? It’s all 55% here!”: Kaliningrad residents were outraged by heating bills in December. In Kaliningrad, after the December increase in tariffs, heat bills in residential buildings increased to 55% instead of the promised 9%. The owners of apartments on Karl Marx and Gabaidulin streets in Chkalovsk found a sharp increase in utility prices. Natalya Tsarkova paid 3,000 rubles for her two-room flat in October and November, and the bill for December was already 4,500.
- Sverdlovsk residents are waiting for a new increase in electricity fees: details of the cancellation of the night tariff. The government of the Sverdlovsk oblast confirmed the partial cancellation of the nightly electricity tariff. This new regulation concerns weekends and holidays, when the night zone operates around the clock. The topic is actively discussed in social networks and on regional Internet forums,
Nizhny Novgorod Oblast
- Residents of the Nizhny Novgorod region sign a petition against the increase in tariffs for housing and communal services (HCS): in December 2022, they were increased for the second time in a year. The petition was created by the chairman of the public organization “Union for the Protection of Consumer Rights in the Housing and Utilities Services”, Natalia Shartanova. She draws attention to the fact that since July 2022, utilities have risen in price by 6.7%, and since December – by 11.7%. That is, for the year, the indexation of fees amounted to 18.4%, which is higher than the amount of indexation established for the Russian Federation’s subjects.
- My salary is less [than HCS prices]!: Yaroslavl residents turned to Putin because of wild utility bills. Albina Astakhova and her friends wrote an appeal to the reception office of President Vladimir Putin. Now they are waiting for an answer.
- Deputy of the Saratov Regional Duma from the Communist Party of the Russian Federation, Alexander Anidalov, on January 25 at a meeting of the regional parliament, touched on the topic of rising prices for heating and electricity in Russia. In his speech, the MP cited the example of European governments, which sent 100 billion euros (2% of GDP) to compensate for rising prices for heating and electricity for the population. According to Anidalov, everything happens the other way around in Russia – at the expense of the population, the authorities help the oligarchs and corporations.
- Chelyabinsk residents are frustrated over the heating bills. According to residents, charges have increased by 30-100%, not by the promised 9%. “Our governor, Teksler, said utility bills would go up 9% from December 1. He lied again. My heating has increased by only 35%, not counting the rest of the tariffs,” another 74.ru subscriber commented angrily.
The Republic of Buryatia
- Residents of Ulan-Ude were indignant at the new heating bills. Due to cold weather, the cost of heat has risen by 60% when charges are made according to the internal housing metering device. Residents are outraged that power engineers wrote such astronomically high bills in December data when there was no particular cold weather. “What will happen when you have to pay for January with its frosts of minus 30 degrees and below?”
The Republic of Sakha-Yakutia
- An unpleasant “surprise”: the residents of Yakutsk were outraged by the new receipts for housing and communal services. The procedure for raising tariffs in 2022 was carried out twice – in July and December. “An unpleasant surprise was the December receipt for housing and communal services. Here’s a “gift”. Utilities have grown significantly: 12,132 rubles compared to 9,634 rubles. And half of it – 6,310 rubles – has to be paid for heating. And this is for a barely warm apartment. We always have to wrap up: tights, socks, sweater. I can never walk in shorts or a light home dress,” Yulia K., a resident of Yakutsk, is indignant.
- In the Astrakhan region, the rise in prices for housing and communal services has accelerated. In December, there was an increase in the cost of housing and communal services, which should have happened only on July 1, 2023, but was postponed to December. The authorities promise that the subsequent increase in prices for housing and communal services is now worth waiting for only in July 2024.
- Utility bills have gone up. Ulyanovsk residents are counting the costs. According to local officials, the unplanned increase will partially smooth out the financial imbalance that has arisen in the economy due to international sanctions imposed against our country.
l In the Krasnodar region, tariffs for housing and communal services in some places will rise in price by 11.6%. The maximum level of tariff indexation will not exceed 9%. However, there may be deviations for municipalities by 2.6%. Hot and cold water, sewerage, gas, electricity, heat supply, and municipal solid waste will become more expensive.
- In 2023, the authorities of the Orlov region promised not to raise utility tariffs. Elena Zhukova, Head of the Regional Department for Tariffs and Pricing Policy, reported at a regional government meeting that in 2023, tariffs for housing and communal services would not change. The following tariff review will take place in July 2024.
- In the coming months, the topic of raising tariffs will remain one of the most resonant on the “domestic political” agenda in Russia. The reason is not its exceptional acuteness (at the moment, tariffs are grave but not “unbearable” for most of the population) but because this topic is one of the very few “vents” within which Russians can legally express accumulated dissatisfaction (at least – limited), without fear of consequences and persecution for their point of view.
- The explanations offered by the authorities for “unscheduled” tariff increases or why they (increases) do not fit into the promised 9% ceiling look unconvincing and do not reassure but irritate Russians. References to the “geopolitical situation” and “Western sanctions” look incredibly “shaky” – the average Russian refuses to understand the relationship between them and the prices of resources that are produced in Russia (in particular, natural gas).
- The central government already has well-established mechanisms for “letting off steam” on this topic. Manipulations with numbers, transferring responsibility to local authorities, in the case of national republics – even a conscious “game” against regional elites using housing and communal services – are only part of the tools that the Presidential Administration and the government have at their disposal. At the same time, they are designed for “peacetime” conditions and do not consider options when housing and communal services problems are only one of many irritants.
- Currently, the “tariff” topic is not a sufficient “consolidator” for the Russians. It is hard to imagine that anyone in one subject of the federation, where tariffs were raised insignificantly, will come out to protest in solidarity with those fellow citizens in whose cities a significant increase in tariffs took place. At the same time, although the “plot” is not self-sufficient, it can be one of the most critical elements/reasons for dissatisfaction with the deteriorating socio-economic situation and falling living standards.
- The most problematic “tariff issue” is for the authorities of individual national republics. The fact that it is now becoming more acute, for example, in Tatarstan, is not an accident but an element of the center’s game against local elites, which are striving for greater independence/preparing for life in “post-Putin” Russia. Curiously, the “first fiddle” in the protests in this region is played not by representatives of the parliamentary opposition (KPRF Zyuganov), but by the marginal “Communists of Russia”. This may be because local cells of the Communist Party prefer not to enter into a direct clinch with the leadership of the republic.
- The popularity of “signing petitions” is due to the fact that this kind of activity is a convenient and surrogate form of expressing dissatisfaction (akin to angry commenting on social networks). At the same time, Russians are mentally and psychologically unprepared for a real “street” struggle for their rights. Instead, they will try to sabotage and challenge the payment in the courts. However, in the conditions of the “scorched landscape” of political and public life, even such actions are positive and an important precedent – especially given that in some of the subjects of the federation, de facto election campaigns for elections to local authorities are starting.
- “Tariff issues” is the “key topic” of the Communist Party. Its structures are behind the most pronounced protest activity. Zyuganov’s party is a controlled opposition, which is allowed to “play” in this field precisely because they do not see the danger of the plot turning into something more than local indignation in provinces far from the capitals. But this is also the “correct calculation” for the “pre-war period” – at the moment, other players may also want to enter this niche (which, indirectly, is evidenced by the statements of representatives of “Just Russia” and “New People” parties).
- There are examples when individual public activists (associated with human rights, consumer protection activities, and, less often, trade unions) are behind the protests. It can be assumed that they are already under the tight control of the police/special services. The chance that some “new politicians” will be allowed to “unwind” on this topic is minimal but not equal to zero. For many potential local leaders of “post-Putin Russia”, the fight against the arbitrariness of energy companies can become an essential stage in their development.
- A complex set of concessions, promises, and pressure on the organizers of anti-tariff protest activities that the central and local authorities are taking (or will take in the future), theoretically, will not allow protests to grow even to the level of a “general region” (in a separate subject of the federation). At the same time, such a “fuse” also has its limitations, particularly resource limitations (like, how much local budgets will subsidize housing and communal services for the population in the context of already accumulated huge debts).
- At the moment, this is not yet a “trend”; however, in discussions about tariffs in social networks in regions with rich natural resources, ideas of “energy and tariff separatism” slip through. Namely, creating a situation in which the prices for energy, electricity, and water for the population of these regions should be supplied at the lowest possible prices – regardless of what the tariffs are in other parts of the Russian Federation or how the price situation develops in international markets. The number of supporters of this approach is likely to increase.
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