In recent weeks, there has been cynical coverage of the dismissal of Russian state statistics director Alexander Surinov, and his replacement by Pavel Malkov; especially as it was soon followed by an upwards revision of GDP growth since 2016 (including 2.3% growth in 2018 vs. expectations of 1.5%-2.0%).
Is the Soviet era of politicized statistics gathering coming back?
I don’t know. I don’t have the insider details to know that. Neither do the journalists who speculate about this.
Unlike many of those journalists, what I do know – as someone who uses Rosstat quite extensively in my own coverage of Russia – is that under its departing director, the state statistics service website has become a complete mess.
The main website gks.ru is an early 2000s era website with some extraneous and mostly useless gizmos. Inconsistent formatting between sections, Flash apps, extraneous features like “rate this page” (which don’t even work”). Data delivery happens via static HTML or downloadable Excel files. But I’d be happy if even that actually worked well.
Want to access historical data? There’s like (at least) 4 systems for it, none of which work properly.
Let’s look at a basic indicator, e.g. natural population increase:
- http://bi.gks.ru:8080/DDB/showcharts.jsp?report=nas01&lang=ru&project=BIPortal_cen_2.bip : Data for 2006-2010 only
- cbsd.gks.ru/: no hyperlinks to date; data for 1970,75,80,85,1990-92 only /3
- gks.ru/dbscripts/cbsd/: This was a good system. It generated HTML tables from 1990-[current year] that could be downloaded in Excel or csv format, with a variety of regional, time, and other filters. It had hyperlinks to every indicator. Data could be copied from the screen, or downloaded in Excel or CSV format. It was simple but it worked. It did pretty much everything that a statistics repository needed to do. But then they nuked it!
- fedstat.ru/: And replaced it with this abomination. Searching for any one term generates multiple series, in different formats and with different starting and ending years. Often missing altogether. No yearly natural population increase numbers since 2012!
In practice, acquiring time series data on Russian economics and demographics now often requires searching across several of these partially broken systems, statistical compendiums, or even outside references to Rosstat figures.
So here is a perhaps more relevant and slightly more plausible explanation for this reorganization.
Alexander Surinov (left) was born in 1958 and finished his economic statistics education in 1989, has run been involved with Rosstat since 2004, and was in charge of it since 2009.
Pavel Malkov (right) was born in 1980 and finished his education in 2009, specializing in “computer software and automated systems.” Since then, his biography indicates that he has had extensive experience with corporate and government digitization, including some involvement with the development of the “My Documents” centers (a huge success story that has greatly simplified many bureaucratic procedures in Russia).
One of those CV’s is clearly more qualified at bringing Rosstat into the modern age than the other.