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New stats say Russia's poor grew sharply

MOSCOW – Russia’s state statistical service says the number of people living in poverty last year spiked up by nearly 20 per cent.

Statistics reported Monday for last year said 19.2 million Russians — about 13 per cent of the population — were living at or below the official poverty level of 9662 rubles ($142) a month. That’s an increase of 3.1 million over 2014.

Russia’s economy has been hit hard the past two years by a combination of the decline of world prices for oil, the country’s primary export earner, and Western sanctions over Russia’s role in the eastern Ukraine conflict and its annexation of Crimea.

Respected former finance minister Alexei Kudrin told the state news agency Tass that Russia’s economy could decline by 2 per cent this year if oil prices remain low.